Okay, so what do our boys up there mean? What does it mean to “Rock Advent”.

Well, as with anything else, “it works, if you work it.” If you follow a food or exercise plan to become more fit, and you keep to it pretty well, you’ll see results. If you tend a garden, pulling the weeds and watering it a bit every day, you’ll generally have beautiful flowers or nice fresh salads in the summer.

Ditto Advent. If you pay attention to the readings of Advent, and meditate on them a bit; if you spend even five minutes more in prayer than you may (or may not) already do; if you consider where you were last year, and where you are this year, and realize that we’re are always on a journey not always of our own design, then you might discover that “working” the Advent season is helping you to look forward with a little more optimism; that you’re less interested in all the material aspects of the season because you’ve caught sight of a promise, off in the distance — one that’s real and closer each day.

A Promise in the Distance

Over at OSV, I’ve written a piece that touches on all of that, a little:

Without the Advent season, I might not manage to set aside a few minutes each day to reflect on the tangled trails I have traveled in the passing year, and to realize just how far into the wilderness I have strayed. Especially in an election year, it seems, one can wander pretty deeply into the wilds and the weeds. The world, beautiful as it is, is also full of spiritual potholes, tricky nettles and the thickets that make us feel entrapped, even if we are not. Without even realizing it, we turn inward, where things seem more comfortable.

Advent coaxes us out. We look up and there is a darker sky than before. The stars show more clearly, and they inspire us to hack through the stuff that has begun to imprison us within the year so that we may walk a freer path, made clear. Engaged and with a certain goal, our awareness shifts and becomes heightened. We hear a memory: “All things, all senses, all times, all places are alive in the sight of their King.” And the King makes everything new.

It’s late to start preparing the way we might have wanted to. Late to buy books of meditations — it might even be a little late to buy specific “Advent Candles” but you can always find some purple candles (for the lightly penitential aspect of the season most of us easily shrug off) and pink, or rose, because “we wait in joyful hope…”

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still “work” the season in order to enjoy its fruits.

The penitential stuff isn’t meant to be harsh or burdensome, just enough to keep you mindful.

Light Offerings Bring Light

Pray for the troubles you see when you’re online — not just for all the discomfiting headlines, but for the small personal pleas you spot as you’re scrolling social media. For people who are keeping watch over the final hours of a loved one, or dealing with a terrible medical emergency, of the loss of a job. Whisper up a prayer for them, “Lord, the one you love is  hurting…”

Perhaps shut off your smartphone an hour earlier than you otherwise might — make it a “nightly fast” — and offer it up, too, as prayer. Believe me, everything will still be there, next morning, as unchanged and predictable as sunrise. But by the end of Advent you might be different, less predictable.

If you can, increase your charitable giving even if it’s just by a few dollars (and that includes to your parish because expenses and costs go up there, too, just as for us…) and if it means fewer decorations or desserts for your own holiday table, well, consider that the sacrifice might be worth it, in more than material ways. Little things. Little sacrifices, little gestures, added together, bring surprisingly big rewards.

Along with the small increase in prayer and giving, little actions count, too:

Walk over a cup of hot chocolate to the elderly neighbor whose kids are scattered about the country and may not be able to come by this year. Better yet, share a meal. Instead of speaking, force yourself to LISTEN to others, even if they’re not saying anything all that interesting or even if you disagree. People really are still permitted to have their own opinions, and you are not required to share them. But to make a person feel seen and heard can go a long way toward them listening to you, in turn. One of my Bendictine spiritual directors has great advice on that score. He says “put your finger on the divot over your upper lip, to remind yourself to shut up and listen.” It’s a “shh” cue, for yourself.

Truly, listening is a great discipline and can be a great gift for others. And it’s something we are all becoming so bad at, largely thanks to social media which is, ironically, making us much less adept at being social.

Read more, if you can. Even better, read aloud to someone, because that is a warm way to make a gift of time spent in company with another.

Make a visitation to the blessed sacrament on the way to the stores.

Try Eucharistic Adoration if you haven’t really given it a shot, yet.  Bring a book of meditations with you or gift someone else with one, for Christmas.

Little Things Mean a Lot

Sometimes I think St. Therese of Lisieux should be a special patroness of Advent, because she understood so well the power of the little things, done for love. In The Story of a Soul she writes, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” 

If you put even a small amount of effort into Advent this year, I promise that you will be glad of it — that each sunset, as you light a candle (a little earlier each night, week by week) you will note how outside is becoming dimmer and darker, while within you are becoming lighter, maybe even starting to glow.

Advent is miraculous, in that way. But as with everything else, you can only get out of it as much as you put into it. So, work it on out…

Or, as the boys would remind  us, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…”

A little more love in Advent will bring a big takeaway.