During Advent, we are yearly called to serve as John the Baptist does, by preparing the way of the Lord in our own families.
We all must discern what our unique Christmas preparations will look like, and what we will focus on (because we can’t do everything of course!).
I was recently advised that I shouldn’t try to take on many new or different goals at this time of the year, but should work harder at doing the things I already do, and doing them with greater fervor.
I found this advice relevant to many areas of my life—for doesn’t the devout life consist of the daily battle against the same old weaknesses of self? Indeed, I have found that my growth as a wife and mother depends fundamentally on my generosity of spirit and commitment to the simple trials of each day.
As Francis Fernandez writes in Conversation with God,
“God asks us to live without ostentation, without wanting to be heroes. He wants us to lead simple, ordinary lives, trying to do good to everyone and carrying out our duties honestly. Without humility we could not bring our friends closer to God. Our life would then become empty.”
My mom, who always made holidays special for her family, is an admirable teacher and inspiration to me. I look back upon my childhood memories of Advent and Christmas, and realize now that for the parent, all that wonderful holiday quality is frequently just more work.
Yet we must remember that it is not meaningless work. Rather, our efforts are filled with deep meaning, because through them, we are learning how to more truly celebrate Christ’s birth.
Celebration always involves forethought and effort, and I want to teach my children that everything we do for Christmas can be a gift to God, and filled with great worth when we put love into the gift.
During Advent, I am working harder at a few simple things:
1. My Home as a Beautiful Cathedral
First, I am striving to attend to my home as a “beautiful cathedral that I’m building for God.” I love this phrase in Sarah MacKenzie’s book, Teaching from Rest.
Especially during the winter months, it can be a real struggle not to become irritable and stir-crazy cooped up between the same four walls with energetic children. Recently, my daughters have seemed to enjoy emptying each and every toy box and board game in the house.
I catch myself often throughout the day feeling overwhelmed and stressed by the endless task of putting things away and cleaning up messes.
When I look around my home each day, I am praying for deeper insight to see each part of my home as a beautiful gift from God – a place where we live, work and grow in love, together as a family.
Instead of seeing diapers, dishes and dust, I am praying for the grace to appreciate and embrace the evidence of life lived, and memories created with my children.
Within the grace of a renewed mindset, I can better focus on my home as an important and hidden vocation, instead of as a wintertime prison for me and my family.
2. All Preparations as Expressions of Love
Secondly, I am striving to view all of the Christmas preparations as our many expressions of love for the Infant Jesus, and let those preparations become our gift to Him.
Who doesn’t love the excitement of the holiday season? But we sometimes get bogged down by trying to fit too much into our preparations. Instead of stressing over the little things and the messes made during crafts or cookies, I am working instead on giving this time to God, and asking Him to show me what is important for our family traditions, and what is not.
Does making cookies and candy with my children to give to our friends teach them something important about Jesus?
If yes, then we will try to celebrate it as best we can, but it doesn’t have to be perfect! Does being part of the family gift exchange increase anxiety for me during Advent, or does it help me to become a more generous sister and aunt?
Changing my attitude goes a long way in these areas, for I soon realize that the very things I am stressing over can easily become opportunities for living the true meaning of Christmas if I put them in the right perspective. Of course, it can go the other way as well.
I have quite easily developed the habit of online shopping during the holiday season, with the idea that it is saving me time; yet in the long run it has often instead become a distraction and time-consumer for me. I must be honest with myself in these instances and curb the tendency to make excuses for my bad habits in the name of Christmas generosity.
Of course, there will never be a perfect solution for each and every family. But above all, we should strive for peace and generosity to reign foremost in our family life during this meaningful time of the year.
The giving of gifts can help teach my children that generosity is both beautiful and rewarding, but I must balance that good thing before it becomes a negative factor in our lives. Decorating and baking are other beautiful ways of celebrating Christmas, but I must not let these good things rob me of my focus on spiritual realities.
3. Being Christ in the Home
Most of all this Advent, I want to be a John the Baptist, and serve as a pre-cursor of Christ to my husband and children. I can prepare the way of the Lord in their hearts by serving them as John served Jesus, and then stepped aside for Our Lord.
Often I fail my family, and focus instead on myself, which can be a frustrating and at times debilitating battle against pride and self-will. This is why humility is the fundamental virtue of advent – for if my heart is not humble towards my neighbor, then I cannot convey the greatest truth of all time: that what is most important in our lives is Jesus.
To again quote Francis Fernandez, “John the Baptist is only the voice. He is only the voice that announces Jesus.” He does not announce his own priestly parentage, but says “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”
We can work this advent, and every year, at being that humble pre-cursor like John, and then move out of the way for Jesus.