Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth. While much Christmas hype is focused on the day itself (and the gifts to be purchased and exchanged), Christmas is better thought of as a process -- a time to be savored, day by day, week by week, rather than rushed through to the end.
This year, our eldest is a first-year in college, so my husband, her brother and I waited for her to come home before getting our tree. After we put it up and decorated it and the house, we hosted two parties. We have two to go.
The joy of Christmas Day comes not simply from the opening of the gifts, but from the time spent decorating, buying presents and wrapping them. It comes from the energy and effort expended to honor and celebrate the birth of Christ and to celebrate our loved ones, all of whom were made in the image of Christ and have the light of Christ within them.
During this year's 22 days of Advent (which started on Dec. 2 and ends on Christmas Eve), the days have gotten darker earlier, the weather colder and the traffic worse as holiday parties, after-work shopping and get-togethers have swung into high gear.
The pace can be dizzying and overwhelming if we don't carefully control our schedules. On any given day, there is always more to do than we can possibly fit in. It's tempting to cut back on sleep and exercise and rely on party appetizers or fast food to fill us up along the way.
While these temporary shortcuts might provide us a few more minutes in the day, the items we are cutting back on are the same items that have been scientifically proven to help us feel better: sleep, exercise and proper fuel for our bodies. To survive the holiday season, instead of pushing ourselves to the limit, we would be better off acknowledging and understanding that we can be at our best only when our best self is available. To be truly present for someone else, we first have to make sure that we ourselves are on solid ground and that the light of Christ within us has space to shine and be seen by others.
You might wonder: How is this possible in a world where so many of us feel unsure, unstable or frightened? In this time of great fluidity and change, traditions, routines and rituals can provide comfort and the feeling of control. They allow us to remain centered and focused while the outside world is churning.
The traditions we value the most tend to be the ones that involve spending time together. Lighting the Advent candles, decorating the tree, buying presents for homeless families, attending Christmas Eve service, baking Christmas cookies and spending Christmas Eve at Nanny's provide us with ways to be together while celebrating.
These routines allow us to breathe, relax and appreciate those we love; to feel safe, secure and loved. During challenging times, often, the best present we can give someone is our presence, our peace. To just be with them.
While it's always tempting to do more and be involved more, especially this time of year, this is exactly the time when we need to slow down, to do less, to be present more with those we love. To simply be with, to be quiet, to be present.
This Advent, remember that the season is not just about the event, but about the expectation, the waiting, the preparation, the everyday events where you can see God's grace shine. Slow down and let your presence be your present -- this season and throughout the year.