A Google search of Advent calendars brings up many choices. You can purchase a calendar with Harry Potter, the Grinch, Star Wars and more. I have seen the progression of these calendars over the years, and I have wondered about the reasons they exist. I have seen calendars that involve a child getting a small toy every day – calendars that seem to exist to count down to the big day when a child will receive more toys. Some calendars involve an adult drinking a little wine each day, to ease the pressure the Christmas season brings.
These are all advertised as “Advent calendars.” But Advent, to me, is about awaiting the birth of Jesus. The words that come to mind are “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
When I was in formation to become a Sister of Mercy, I remember a sister telling me that she sat in darkness with just her Advent candles for a half hour each evening during Advent. She spent that time simply being quiet and praying. I was still new to developing my prayer life and thought of this as strange. “Why do this during Advent?” I thought.
Then the next year I tried it.
Nightly intentional prayer amidst the craziness of everything the Christmas season brings helped me to remember what Advent is about. The nightly prayer made it a time to truly wait for Jesus to come. This additional prayer time continues to ensure that I don’t show up in the pew on Christmas Eve thinking, “Wait, what happened to the Advent season?”
We had a Sister of Mercy from New Zealand visit us recently. She told us about an Advent calendar she uses with her students -- and we decided to do it at home! The sister I live with and I cut out the squares for each day and hung them around our door. It is a way to count down that does not involve anything from popular culture. There is a scripture verse and on the other side something for us to do that either involves praying or doing an act of kindness. The scripture reminds me each day what I am waiting for. This Advent calendar fits the meaning of Advent and truly embraces the season of waiting.
I am reminded of a prayer by Renee Swope that I heard recently. Part of this prayer said “This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart, invade my soul like Bethlehem, bring peace to every part. Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.”
These Advent practices help me to unwrap the presence of Jesus each day as I wait for Christmas.