Advent: Focusing on the Essential with Expectant Delight

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Dec 02, 2017

Advent begins this Sunday. December 3 is the latest date that Advent can begin, which also makes it the shortest Advent possible. The Fourth Week of Advent is only one day.

We are beginning a new Liturgical Year. Happy New Year! It is a human tendency to look forward to seasonal or time shifts that encourage starting over or beginning new habits. I have decided my word (and focus) for this Liturgical Year is focusing on being ESSENTIAL.

I’m already feeling a bit overwhelmed about Advent and Christmas. The secular world is preparing for Christmas with such a sensorial onslaught since the beginning of November. On the other hand, I’m being bombarded in my Catholic social media on “preparing for Advent.” Everyone wants to share their perfect planners, activities, prayers, customs, crafts, recipes, music, etc. Here at Catholic Culture we share a multitude of options, and I personally share many on my personal blog. The multitude of options and pressure from all sides can be paralyzing. I remind myself I cannot let those feelings overtake the purpose of this season of preparation.

I usually like to write an introductory Advent post rounding up all the Advent activities and traditions to do within the family, but what is needed more is help on how to sort and choose prudently what fits for one’s own family. Having other people suggest plans and prescribe a “one-size-fits-all” Advent is just replacing the secular Christmas busy-ness with a busy Advent season.

This is what is drawing me to focusing on the ESSENTIAL. I do not mean the same as the current trends of “simplifying” or being a minimalist, but focusing on what is most important or vital.

Essential Church Focus for Advent

What is the Church’s essential focus about Advent? From the General Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar:

39. Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.

“Devout and expectant delight” is such a wonderful phrase. Are we preserving a spirit of delight in our Advent preparation? That should be an essential aim.

The other essential focus is the two-fold character. Too often the emphasis of preparation is placed on Christ at Bethlehem, but we cannot prepare for a historical event, because the time has already passed. If we listen carefully to the Advent Liturgy there are also many eschatological reminders, urging us to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. Even the Old Testament prophecies and “O” Antiphons woven in the liturgy throughout the season of Advent provide a double sense of longing and preparation, both for the First Coming of the Messiah at Christmas, but hints at the Second Coming, or Parousia, the end of time “when God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). Our waiting involves spiritual preparedness, just like the Wise Bridesmaids in the parable. We need keep our eyes on the coming of Christ and not end up without extra lamp oil.

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) atrium, the essential message of waiting and “expectant delight” with focus on both comings of Christ is shared even with the youngest child. The children in the atrium contemplate the Messianic prophecies and the Infancy Narratives, all hinting at this dual coming. How many adults realize there is a focus on the Second Coming during Advent?

Finding the Delight

CGS is always insisting about starting with the essential and to always be essential. Again essential is not the same as being simple or minimal, but finding the heart or the kernel.

In sorting out how to personally celebrate Advent, the question to ponder is what is the heart of all Advent family traditions and customs, otherwise known as “popular piety”? As suggested in the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, the Liturgy is the primary reference point:

The popular devotions of the Christian people [...] should accord with the sacred Liturgy...[and] in some way derive from it, and lead people to it, since in fact the Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them (Sacrosanctum Concilium, as quoted in Dir. Popular Piety, no. 58).

So as Advent begins, I need to find what is the essential in our Advent. What is the heart of the message of Advent I’m trying to convey to my family? Is it drawing us deeper into the liturgy? Am I keeping the two-fold focus of remembering Christ’s birth and preparing for the Second Coming? Will it be “a period of devout and expectant delight”?

I know all of life isn’t translated to Montessori, but I started to think how both in Montessori and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd the catechist or guide creates an album, with an album page for each presentation. In CGS each page/presentation includes 3 categories: 1) Doctrinal Content or Heart of the Christian Message, 2) Direct Aim and 3) Indirect Aims. Each album page needs to be personally written by the catechist for each presentation. It’s hard work, but it makes the catechist examine carefully the point or heart of each presentation in the atrium.

While I’m not saying an album should be written for each liturgical season in the home, some of this approach can be applied in my domestic church. Someone else should not do all the planning for my Advent. There is no one size fits all. There needs to be introspection and sorting out for my family. Advent is personal and spiritual. Where and what are my aims?

Even if I decide I’m doing standard traditions like Advent Wreath, what it will look like in my home, even from year to year is going to be different. My children grow, our commitments change. But if I understand the essential message and purpose of an activity, I don’t have to panic if I only have orange candles for my wreath, for the symbolism and prayers of the wreath are still there.

Allowing Room for Delight

Finding the essential also ties in with the “Art of Waiting” as coined by Mother Mary Francis. Today we are afraid of having open moments. We feel the need to “fill” time to connect one activity to another. Am I making room to have “devout and expectant delight” in our Advent? Filling up our Advent with customs and traditions that have no connection, no rhyme or reason except “everyone does it” or do not fit into our needs is not the art of waiting. We need space and time to allow us to think, to contemplate, to listen—to allow for delight.

It can be difficult to set aside time to actually think about all this. It would be much easier to pull out some prescribed plans to follow. But our spirituality is personal. And so, as we enter this new Liturgical Year, let us keep in the forefront the essential of this season of preparation. What does God want for me this Advent season? Am I keeping to the heart of Advent, tying our domestic church to the liturgy and focusing on the two comings of Christ? Am I leaving room to experience “devout and expectant delight”?

I pray you will have a happy, holy and essential Advent season—with room for much delight.

For Further Advent Reading:

Feast Days of Advent

O Antiphons

Jesse Tree

Advent Pondering

LITURGICAL DAYS IN ADVENT:

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr

December 6, St. Nicholas:

Immaculate Conception, December 8

St. Juan Diego, December 9 and Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12

O Antiphons: December 17-23

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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