Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. While much Christmas hype is focused on the day itself and the gifts to be purchased and exchanged, Christmas is better thought of as a process, a time to be savored, day by day, week by week, rather than rushed through to the end. Even though we are at the end of Advent (It started on Nov. 28 and ends on Dec. 24.), there is still time to savor the few days left.
The joy of Christmas Day comes not simply from the opening of the gifts but from the time spent decorating, buying presents and wrapping them. It comes from the energy and effort expended to honor and celebrate the birth of Christ and to celebrate our loved ones, all of whom are made in the image of Christ and have the light of Christ within them. It’s the acknowledgment of the miracle of the birth of Christ — not only was he born to a virgin, his mother Mary, but he was the son of God, who so loves you and me that he sent his son to earth to be born, to live among us and to be crucified for our sins.
During this year’s 26 days of Advent, the days have gotten darker earlier, the weather colder and the traffic worse as holiday parties, after-work shopping and get-togethers have swung into high gear. On top of that, we are dealing with the effects of almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rapid acceleration of the omicron wave. The combination of the additional activities and the arrival of the latest variant of the virus can be overwhelming and debilitating. The news about all this is scary. My advice to my family, friends and readers is to turn off the news and focus on what is happening around you.
The pace of our lives can be dizzying and overwhelming if we do not carefully control our schedules. On any given day, there is always more to do than we can possibly fit in. It’s tempting to cut back on sleep and exercise, and to rely on party appetizers or fast food to fill us up along the way.
While these temporary shortcuts might provide us with a few more minutes in the day, the items we are cutting back are the same items that have been proven to help us feel better: sleep, exercise and proper fuel for our bodies. To survive the holiday season, instead of pushing ourselves to the limit, we would be better off acknowledging that we can be at our best only when our best self is available. To be truly present for someone else, we first have to make sure that we ourselves are on solid ground, and that the light of Christ within us has space to shine and be seen by others.
You might wonder, how is this possible in a world where so many of us feel unsure, unstable or frightened? In this time of great fluidity and change, traditions, routines and rituals can provide us with comfort and the feeling of control. They allow us to remain centered and focused while the outside world is churning.
The routines we value the most tend to be the ones that involve spending time together. These routines allow us to breathe, relax and appreciate those we love — to feel safe, to feel secure and to feel loved. During challenging times, often the best present we can give someone is our presence, our peace — to just be with them.
To be able to give others this gift of our presence, we must first make sure that we have refilled our own well of energy. Meditation, time alone, exercise, good food, sleep and sunlight allow us to build our own reserves so that we can then, in turn, give our best presence to others.
For what remains of this Advent, remember that the season is not just about the event but about the expectation, the waiting, the preparation, the everyday events where you can see God’s grace shine. Slow down and let your presence be your present this season, and throughout the year ahead.
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