Thank you so much for your question. First and foremost, please know that your concern is valid. For most Advent celebrations, time is required. From advent wreath to advent calendar, it takes dedication and time to remember to see the liturgical ritual all the way to the end. Like fasting, it is easy to begin with good intentions but by the time the fourth and final week comes around, the realization that neither the last candle was lit nor the last calendar door opened is disheartening to say the least. Instead of feeling as though a true celebration of the coming of Christ was fully active in your life, what is supposed to end with a joyous moment is now riddled with guilt for not fully completing the act. I truly understand.
What I want you to first remember is the reason, not the ritual. Advent is the liturgical season where we celebrate the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. Remember that this is a time that you celebrate Christ’s return for you and Christ’s restorative power for you. Remember that you celebrate the one who will be clothed in swaddling cloth in a crib with the sole purpose of being clothed with a crown of thorns on the cross — just for you.
Second, remember to put God first, whether it is in the season of Advent or outside the season. I do not want you ever to get to place where you do not have room for God — the one who has gifted you with the ability to pursue higher education in the first place.
With that said, I would suggest the following:
- In the morning, before you grab the cell phone (as we have a tendency to do), whisper a prayer of gratitude. Maybe make a note for yourself as a reminder to pray. Set your alarm five minutes early so that you can spend a moment in reflection.
- If you are able to purchase an Advent wreath (if you had the time, I would also suggest making one), place the wreath by your nightstand. After you roll over, and before the cell phone, light the appropriate candle. If you are able to get a calendar, do the same.
- In the world of technology, everything is available in mobile format. Google a particular Advent app and download. You may not have the time for reflection, but you can at least open a devotion for the day while in transit to class or in-between classes. I know you have at least five to ten minutes in your day. Make it count for God.
- Have an Advent dinner with friends. If you feel that you are swamped, I am certain that your friends feel the same. Agree to come together for the next four Sundays to have dinner, light a wreath, share a reflection, etc.
These are just a few examples of what you can do. Regardless of what you decide, make the decision to put God first, not just now, but always.
The fact that you are already paying attention to Advents means that you have made a great start! And if you have limited time, there are still ways, I think, that you can make this meaningful as you go. Since Advent is kind of a hidden experience anyway (no one really paid attention to what Mary was doing, no one truly realized what baby she was carrying) you can imagine yourself joining in with that hiddenness and quietly entering the story that way.
- Light a candle. Since it is a season that focuses on light coming into the darkness, something as simple as lighting a candle can hold a lot of significance. You can light your candle for even a few moments each day and ponder how the light, even a small light (a baby!) overcomes all the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it! This is something you can carry with you all day, watching for and being attentive to how this plays out in your day — where is the light piercing the darkness?
- Read a devotional. With limited time for spiritual practices, besides lighting the candle, you might consider choosing one Advent devotional (out of the many, many choices out there) to spend a few minutes reading, each day. Even a few verses of Scripture that speak of the ancient prophecies of the coming Messiah can give you something to chew on throughout the day.
- Choose a hymn. You might also consider choosing, perhaps, one Advent hymn for each of the four weeks of Advent (O Come, O Come Emmanuel; Come Thou Long-expected Jesus, etc.) and play, sing or read through it (if you can somehow listen to the music in the haunting minor key of these hymns of longing and yearning it will tend to stay with you longer) and then think about it as you go.
- Choose a theme. Choosing a theme to meditate on can also help: longing to be set free (O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel) or light shining in darkness (The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light) —something that you can carry with you and think about the whole period of Advent. Where do you see the longing? How do you understand it, in your own life? Where do you see others — believers and those who do not yet believe — longing for something more? Or where do you see the light breaking in, as mentioned before.
- Listen for invitations. Finally — since all of our devotional life is meant to build us up and care for our own souls but also to spill out in care for others — look for invitations from God, ways that the Holy Spirit might be nudging you to use what you see to bless others. Who needs some light in their darkness? How can you be part of that? Who needs encouragement not to lose hope that what they are longing for can one day be realized?
Even if you are very busy and your life is loaded with work, there will be moments when the Spirit brings things to your attention. You simply have to choose to be attentive and then see where it goes. May it be a rich time of discovery and joy!
a note from Marcia Bosscher
Both our mentors this month suggest lighting candles and setting aside time for reading an Advent devotional. With their encouragement, I am setting my alarm this Advent season with time in mind to consider Christ’s coming.
For me, it’s important to set things up the night before: alarm set, coffee maker ready, thermostat in this Wisconsin early winter set for an earlier rise, devotional books and Bible and candle and matches on the sidetable, ready to go.
I’m drawing from my collection of Advent books and would love to hear of any others you recommend.
God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
“The more I reflected on my experience at [an Anglo-Catholic church Christmas service], the more I realized that my own temptation to sentimentalize Christmas involved turning away from the messiness of my disenchanted, adult life. Christmas is, after all, the story of the Creator entering into his creation—a creation that has been marred by human sin and weakness. It is the story of a God who does not disdain his world, despite its frailty, ambiguities, and messiness. The God who became a helpless babe in a stable entered into our human anxieties and confusions and redeemed them.” p. v-vi, co-editor Greg Pennoyer,
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
“Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet. We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him.” p. 24, contributor J.B. Phillips
The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent
“But each year’s celebration somehow speaks its familiar message with a freshness that can only be heard by ears a year older. So you’re invited to bring your this-Christmas life within reach of God’s Christmas story, to look at these same pictures of love and grace from a new vantage point, to spend a few moments each day letting God’s comforting sameness reveal His new-every-morning side.” Author Calvin Miller
The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent
“In my view, God’s coming to us in the form of a human baby, if it really is the good news the angel says it is, must be good and relevant not just to those shepherds who first heard it proclaimed but to me, today, in the world I live in. So I tell it that way: as not only God’s story but also my own, the story of his advent into my life.” p. 8, author Patty Kirk
for encouragement and understanding in following the Church Year
Please share with us and our readers what you are finding helpful as you enter this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate God with us.