by Father Mark Goldasich
Did you hear about the woman doing her last-minute shopping at a crowded mall?
She was tired of fighting the crowds, of standing in lines and of slogging her way down long aisles looking for gifts that had sold out days before.
Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was, of course, full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks, though, to allow a small space for her and her load.
As the doors closed, the frustrated woman blurted out, “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up and shot!”
Several folks nodded their heads or grunted their agreement.
Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator came a single voice that said, “Don’t worry, lady. They al- ready crucified him.” (Adapted from “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, general editors.)
How easy it is to forget what Christmas is really all about. That’s why we need the season of Advent so desperately. Its themes of hope, joy, peace, patience, watchfulness and anticipation reorient our hearts and minds. They clear the cobwebs of hurrying and consumerism, so we can see clearly what — or rather whom — we are called to celebrate on Dec. 25.
If you truly want to be countercultural, be faithful to the season of Advent. Its demands are simple: stop, look and listen.
As much as possible, stop all the rushing around by committing yourself to prayer in these days. Start by having a specific time to pray. Because these days can get so crazy, if you leave it up to chance to find a time to pray, chances are you’re not going to stop and do it. Be creative: Pray while the coffee is brewing, with your spouse before heading to work, with the family after supper, in the car or at the gym. Give yourself permission to make the time. It will help keep everything in perspective.
And perspective is something that is easily lost, especially when twinkling lights and shiny baubles vie for our attention. To regain focus, look at an Advent wreath. Set one up in your home before even worrying about a Christmas tree. It doesn’t need to be fancy or even have the “official” pink and purple candles. Just grab a bit of greenery (to remind yourself that there is life in the midst of winter), form it into a circle (to remind yourself of God, who has no beginning and no end) and add four lights of any type, one for each week of this special season (to remind yourself that Christ, the light of the world, is coming).
Put the wreath in a prominent place to remind (or “guilt”) you to pray, especially on those days when demands far outweigh your energy or time.
Finally, be quiet and listen. A great way to calm the mind and heart is to play a favorite Advent or Christmas hymn. Follow that by reading a passage from Scripture or some other prayer resource. One that is new and literally right at hand on your smartphone or tablet is an app — Catholic Media ArchKCK — that the archdiocese has just rolled out. You can read all about this daily dose of Advent on page 3 of this issue. Sit down this Thanksgiving weekend and plan — not what stores you’re going to hit for gifts, but when and how you’ll carve out time to celebrate Advent. This prayer for the season from the late spiritual writer Father Henri Nouwen is an ideal way to begin each day of this special time of the year:
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.
Here’s hoping that this Advent will make clear to us and all the world who’s to “blame” for this whole Christmas thing.