In late November, the air is ripe with motherly anxiety as many of us brace ourselves to “do” Christmas one more time. We ready ourselves for more shopping, more decorating, more entertaining, and more baking. And year after year, despite our best-laid plans and intentions, many of us wind up feeling controlled by materialism, pressured by expectations, and overwhelmed by obligations. As Advent begins, we prepare — not so much for the coming Christ — but for completely depleting ourselves in the name of His coming.
This is no way to prepare for a baby.
Christmas is an undeserved blessing, the joyful celebration of God’s great love — the Word made flesh. It’s ours to anticipate; it isn’t ours to “do.”
This year, I have a different plan for Advent. I plan to prepare for Christmas in some of the ways I have prepared for my own babies in the past. We are waiting for a baby, after all. And, even if you are not a mother, I encourage you to do the same. Here’s how:
We mothers know how to clean for a baby, and when the hormones of late pregnancy kick in, there’s no stopping us. We know how to scrub out the refrigerator, alphabetize the DVD collection, sanitize the light switches, and bleach seven loads of laundry in a single day. We do these things because nature tells us to.
We don’t need to bleach or boil in preparation for Christmas, but we can clear clutter from our homes. We can free ourselves from “stuff” by purging our overflowing closets, garages, and toy boxes in order to throw useless things away and donate good items to charity.
And we can come clean. We can let go of stubborn grudges and lingering resentments. We can free ourselves of selfish pride that fills us with anger and entitlement. We can stop nursing our own tiny wounds and focus instead on the ways that we have hurt others, failed ourselves, and offended God.
We can go to confession. We can examine our consciences, enter into the presence of Christ in the confessional, and acknowledge our own selfishness, omissions, and offenses. We can open our hearts to receive the graces God pours into them through the sacrament. We can humble ourselves in preparation to receive the gift of Christ and to recognize the inestimable debt of gratitude we owe this tiny baby — our Lord and our Savior.
When I was pregnant for the first time and shopping for a crib, an elderly lady I knew scolded me: “You don’t need a crib! My babies all slept with nothing but a blanket in a dresser drawer!”
I never have tried the dresser drawer thing, but I have come to know that, while it’s nice to have some baby things, new parents don’t truly need to collect all the gear that baby magazines are pushing these days.
And neither do we need many of the things we buy and do in preparation for Christmas. While it is appropriate to buy gifts as a means of expressing affection and recognizing this holy season, we can carefully choose how we spend our time and money.
Will that mountable reindeer head that tells raunchy jokes and makes bodily noises contribute to your family’s celebration? Do you need to impress the neighbors by turning your yard into an animated, glittering display of lights and splendor that rivals Disneyland? Are you shopping your family into debt? Are you tempted to buy junk and useless gizmos for people on your list, just so that you can cross off their names?
In preparation for Christmas, we can choose what things to buy and what things to do thoughtfully. With some thought and discernment, we can be sure that our extra efforts are meaningful. We can ensure that they draw us toward, and not away from, Christ.
As excited as we get about a new baby’s birth, every mother must admit that there is something special about the waiting. Anticipating a good thing can be a good thing in itself. There is a certain quiet joy in feeling a growing baby’s twists and kicks within us as we imagine what wonders God has in store.
Advent, too, has a certain quiet joy. When we wrap secret presents, open doors on a calendar, light candles on a wreath, and bake goodies that we store away for future celebrations, we anticipate good things. We are waiting for Christ. And God invites us to savor the waiting.
He invites us to savor the glowing lights of the Christmas tree as they flicker in our children’s eyes. He invites us to turn off the television and take a walk in the winter air. He invites us to savor the silence of a cold dark night as we watch and wait for His coming light. He invites us to remember what we have been told and to anticipate the greatness of the One to come:
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; Upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. (Is 9:5)
Come, Lord Jesus, come!