In recent posts, we’ve been reflecting on the qualities or dispositions of Advent living, wondering what it means to “anticipate the good” and “wait in the midst of fear.” This season invites us to slow down, to practice stillness (even if only in snippets each day), to listen to our personal and communal hopes and longings, and to watch patiently for the inbreaking of God’s light, life, and love into the world.
As much as I enjoy (and need) all this calm and restfulness, at the end of the day, I am a do-er. I want to get things done. Check off my lists. Plan, create, and generate. It’s not easy to be still. So, I’m glad that Advent living also has, along with these contemplative pieces, a more active component: preparing our hearts and homes. In other words, in Advent we are invited not only to anticipate and to wait but also to prepare.
Preparing entails, among other things, clearing away the figurative and literal clutter in our lives and making room for something new to take its place. Ordinary seasonal activities symbolize this clearing out and making room. In my house, we clear space for the Christmas tree. Furniture is moved, and parts of the floor that haven’t been swept for some time finally get some attention. We make room on the mantle for a nativity set and candles. We dedicate time for mindful coloring and arts and crafts. We open an Advent calendar each day, wondering what might appear behind each little door.
As we get closer to Christmas, it is tempting (at least for me) to turn these practices into another nagging to-do list. Advent calendar, check. Wreath, check. Christmas lights, check. Shopping for gifts and mailing holiday cards, check. Once these devolve into a check-list, it’s easy to rush through them. Hurrying deprives rituals of their meaning and joy. And so, preparing needs to be paired, again and again, with the slowness and watchfulness of anticipating and waiting.
We can facilitate this “making room after clearing out” through intentionality, a kind of thoughtfulness about the rituals and activities that we undertake. How do they contribute to our wellbeing and that of others, especially in the context of a global pandemic? Perhaps we would be served by focusing on just a few traditions. I read a blog by one mother whose family has chosen to light candles, sing carols, and open an Advent calendar this season. In making decisions like these, our connections are bolstered by seeking the input of close family and friends. Together we can wonder, “Which Advent rituals or Christmas traditions are we drawn to this year? Which ones ought we keep, and which ones can we let go? How can we make decisions that honor our fundamental belonging to a greater communal whole?” We exist with and for each other. Our choices impact each other significantly. Certainly, the coronavirus has taught us that.
We also clear out and make room by adjusting our schedules. One gift of this year may be its invitation to simplify our daily lives. Admittedly, the pandemic has impacted people differently, creating too much room, emptiness, and loneliness for some and nearly eradicating rest and solitude for others. In any case, as we head into the final week of Advent, we might be served by reflecting on these questions:
- What needs to be removed from or added to our schedules?
- What needs to be cleared out of our living spaces, or added?
- What demands and expectations of ourselves ought we to set aside? Especially if ten months of a global pandemic have stretched us so thin that we imagine we might snap.
- Whom might we welcome into our hearts (if not our homes) this year?
This last question deserves some in-depth consideration. We have been given ample opportunity this year—consider alone the murder of George Floyd—to reflect on issues of mercy and justice. Whose injustices do we care about? Whose do we ignore or simply fail to see? Who do we welcome with open arms into our churches, schools, and homes? Similarly, if we consider the vitriol in our culture we might ask, “Who do we hold in disdain? Turn into an enemy? Refuse to forgive?”
We prepare our hearts to welcome Christ by welcoming each other in this season. We undertake this preparation with the firm trust that God is preparing us. God will come to us. God will welcome us anew. Then God, who makes room for us, makes us into a people who make room for others, especially those whom we have held out in the, proverbial or literal, cold.
However we prepare our hearts and homes in the final week of this season, may we do so with the steady, regular practices of anticipating and waiting so that we are not overwhelmed and so that we can endure—maybe even, by grace, relish—this waiting for life, light, and love.
*Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).