We call the weeks prior to Christmas, “Advent.” We order this time for intentional watching and waiting on the coming of the Lord. And yet, during these same weeks we feel the pressure to buy, celebrate, and feast. How do we live into the call to watch and wait while juggling Christmas shopping, decorating, multiple parties, and the ongoing challenges of work and home?
Advent devotion can feel like one more pressure in the midst of a never-ending rush. Advent guilt hardly seems like a proper way to prepare for the coming of the Lord. For those who struggle to enter into Advent disciples of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it might help to adopt for small, incremental actions of rest and reflection.
Here are a few simple ways to move toward the disciples of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the weeks of Advent.
Breath prayers – The season is focused on the coming of the Lord, so we might rehearse short breath prayers that look toward His coming as we move through the day. Here are two possibilities: “Even so Lord come quickly” (from Revelation 22:20) or “I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior” (Micah 7:7).
Prayerful reading – Start the day with five to ten minutes of reading. Listen for one thought that you can reflect upon and pray throughout the day. Try reading or listening to Scriptures from the Daily Office Lectionary or also from Advent devotional books (for a suggested list see Advent Resources).
Walk or drive – If you can find ten to fifteen extra minutes at lunch or some other point during the day, take a short walk to offer thanks for God’s goodness and to ask for grace in learning the way of watching and waiting. It might be helpful to try driving in silence and use that time to quiet your heart before the Lord. Sometimes I take an hour to drive back roads and quiet neighborhoods, so I can pray and listen.
Prayerful listening – Listening to meditative music might also be a way to pause and pray while driving or even while working (for suggested music see Advent Resources).
Prayerful celebration – Times of decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, card-writing, and cooking can all be infused with breath prayers or reflections upon the gift of God in Christ and the gift of God in the people around us. When shopping, I have sometimes prayed for all the shoppers I see. I might also pray for those working in the stores, those who helped make or ship the products and those in need. I might watch and wait and look for the coming of the Lord even as I interact with co-workers, attend parties and spend time with family.
Most Christmas parties are scheduled in the middle of Advent, so fasting seems like an almost impossible challenge. Rev. William Cwirla suggests setting modest goals of fasting meat, cheese and deserts on Wednesdays and Fridays. Read his thoughts on Fasting for a helpful approach to fasting.
I also might think of modest fasting of other senses like silence while driving, spending evenings without television in the candlelight with soft music, and limiting online interaction to only one time of the day.
Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov speaks of a fast of the eyes that prepares us to behold the beauty of the Lord. By fasting our senses even in modest ways, we might prepare our hearts and minds to encounter the Lord afresh in all five senses.
Giving is a vital discipline throughout the year. During Advent, we might look for ways to extend giving in our normal day to day activities. I might plan to increase tipping in restaurants. I might seek to complement my Christmas shopping with giving to ministries in my community and abroad. I might look for ways to better serve my co-workers, family members, and friends in word and deed.
Most of us cannot take the weeks leading up to Christmas as an extended retreat. We must continue working and raising families while also adding the seasonal obligations of parties, family gatherings, gift giving and more. These added pressures need not prevent us from turning toward the coming of the Lord through small acts of quiet prayer, moderate fasting, generous giving. Let us ask God to grant us grace to practice a way of watching and waiting for the glory of His coming that we may learn to behold Him even now.
Image by Jonas Tana (via Creative Commons).