O Come, Emmanuel
Friday, Nov. 29, 2019
So ends another Church year. On Dec. 1 we will celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year. While the obvious focus of the season is to ready our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child, we also direct our preparations of soul and mind to the coming of Jesus into our daily lives, as well as for the coming of the Son of Man at the end of time. This is the “already but not yet” mystery of our faith: Jesus has already come to offer salvation, he is present in the world today, but he has not yet come to judge the living and the dead. Advent, then, is a time to sweep the hearth and set the table of our souls so that we will be ready to welcome the newborn babe in the manger as well as the Lord who will descend from heaven with the sound of God’s trumpet.
The Church is replete with traditions to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Among the visible reminders that allow us to keep sight of the holiness of the season is the Advent wreath with its accompanying prayers and candles. Then there is the nativity scene that tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s unsuccessful search for an inn, the empty manger that is symbolic of the hope for which we wait, the angels who heralded the birth of the Savior, the shepherds who were the first to hear the glad tidings, the three kings who can be moved closer and closer to the crèche as the Epiphany draws near.
There is also the Advent calendar, with its daily spiritual quote. While this is a good basis for reflection, my spiritual life has been suffering neglect recently, so I plan to be more intentional with prayer in preparation for Christmas. The problem is choosing which type of prayer. Should I attend daily Mass several times a week? Would setting aside time for lectio divina or mediation be better? Going to Mass means committing to a set schedule, which can be problematic with the demands of my job. On the other hand, I can do contemplative prayer as time allows, but too often that means I put it off until bedtime, and by then I want only to sleep, not seek God.
Whichever type of prayer I settle on, another decision will be what to pray about. The Sunday Gospel readings will offer plenty of fodder, but there are also the O Antiphons, which traditionally are included in Evening Prayer from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23. There are various commentaries on the prayers for Advent. Usually I’m given a copy of the Little Blue Book, with its daily devotion. For a change of pace I could listen to Advent hymns and reflect on the Biblical roots of the lyrics. I also might pray the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, which I just recently learned about. Then there is the Facebook suggestion to begin on Dec. 1 and read one chapter of Luke’s gospel each day. With 24 chapters, by Christmas morning I’ll have reflected on the story of Jesus beginning with the birth of John the Baptist all the way through to the Ascension of Christ.
With so much to choose from the temptation is to try to do it all. From bitter experience, though, I know that for me that path leads to exhaustion, not spiritual fulfillment. I can choose only one type of prayer for which to set aside time each day if I am to be ready to welcome Christ at Christmas. Perhaps I should even start now, with a petition for guidance on which prayer to undertake.
Marie Mischel is editor of the “Intermountain Catholic.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.