Advent is always a tricky season. The world tells us that Christmas began even before Thanksgiving, and that December is just one long celebration. But the Church tells us that Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, and so we refrain from celebration until Christmas. What does this “refraining” consist of, though? Penance? Prayer? Good works? Advent wreaths? And how are we supposed to avoid all the holiday hubbub going on around us? Even if we could, are we really expected to give up some of our most treasured traditions simply because they occur before Christmas?
I don’t claim to have the definitive answers to all these questions, but I do have some thoughts to share. It seems to me that the surest way to have a grace-filled Advent is to imitate Mary. After all, we can never go wrong by trying to be more like her, and of all human beings, she has the most intimate connection to the anticipation of Christ’s birth. So, this Advent I am trying to imagine how Mary would have felt and acted during the last few weeks of her pregnancy. I imagine she was filled with joyful anticipation, just like other mothers-to-be, but even more so, since her child was to be the Son of God. Just imagine her awe each time she felt the Christ child kick in her womb. “This tiny baby I will be meeting in just a few weeks, and who is already alive within me, is the Messiah!” I think this sentiment would probably have been followed up by another, though: “How shall I prepare?” Just as parents today decorate the nursery or buy baby clothes, I’m sure she was doing whatever she could to welcome Jesus into her home when he came. On an even deeper level, though, she was preparing room for Him in her heart. Mary was, of course, immaculately conceived, so she didn’t need to remove sin from her heart in order to prepare it for Jesus. However, I imagine she humbly pondered her own unworthiness to be the Mother of God and mourned over the sinfulness of the world this child would come into.
Obviously, our situation is different from Mary’s. We aren’t literally carrying the baby Jesus inside us, and we have plenty of sin that needs to be removed if we are to be truly prepared for Christ’s coming. We can still learn from Mary, though. Just as she awaited the birth of her Son with joy and hope, so must we. And if we find that we are unable to avoid premature Christmas celebrations, or have beautiful pre-Christmas traditions which we want to continue, let us look at them through Mary’s eyes. I don’t know if St. Elizabeth threw her a baby shower (probably not), but perhaps we could think of our pre-Christmas Christmas parties as baby showers for the Christ child- a chance to rejoice in the approach of His birth. At the same time, though, let’s remember to ponder our own unworthiness to receive Jesus into our world and our hearts, to repent, and to strive against sin with renewed vigor. Let us wait with Mary, then, making room for Jesus in our hearts and lives.