If Thanksgiving is here, then Christmas, as everyone knows, is just around the corner. It’s time to prepare for it—not just by getting the house ready and buying or making gifts, but also in the most important way: spiritually. And this year, it looks at first glance as though we’re getting shortchanged in our lead time, because of the way the days fall.
Advent always has four Sundays, and this year the Fourth Sunday of Advent is Christmas Eve. There’s no fourth week of Advent to round out our time of spiritual preparation.
Of course, we have the same number of days to get ready, and therefore the same amount of time. It’s just that the liturgical season of Advent is shortened. That makes me a little sad, because I love Advent, its prayers and the sense of anticipation that it brings. This year, because it’s shorter, it’s making me think about time: What time means to me and to all of us, and how we use it.
It seems that no matter what I’m doing or what’s on my schedule, I’m always looking for more time. Can I shave a few minutes off that trip to the store? How much time must I allow to get to that appointment? Which route from here to there has the fewest traffic lights?
It’s usually at this time of the year that we feel the most rushed and time-starved. On one hand, there is Advent, a spiritual season that calls us to turn our minds and hearts to the story of our salvation, to the promise that God made to humanity and to its fulfillment in Christ. We need to prepare our hearts and souls for Christmas. On the other hand, there are the demands of the secular season, and they aren’t all bad. It is a good thing to give gifts as a sign of love and a reminder of God’s gift of his Son to us. It is good to gather with family and friends, to entertain and extend hospitality. It is especially good during this season to be generous to those in need. All of that takes time and effort.
How do we find the balance? I’m thinking about that as we approach Advent. I believe that Jesus understands our struggles with time. When he took on our human nature, he also embraced the limitations of a 24-hour day. As a carpenter, he had work to do and a certain amount of time in which to finish it. In his public life of preaching the Gospel, he knew what it was to have miles to travel, literally and figuratively. If we seem always to be on the move, so was he. But he always took time to rest and to pray to his Father. We can follow his example, even if resting sometimes means only a short break for a cup of coffee, or when prayer is a brief pause for quiet time with the Lord, whether we use a prayer book or simply the words in our heart.
Recently, I came across a quote from the writings of Maisie Ward, the English author who, with her author husband, Frank Sheed, founded the legendary Catholic publishing house Sheed & Ward. Maisie Ward wrote, “It is the chief characteristic of a life lived for God that there is time in it for everything that matters.”
It takes practice, but we can learn what matters in our life. Even amid the bustle, we can figure out what we need to do, what we can let go of and what will truly bring us the joy that the world cannot give.
Advent means “coming.” We look back to the Lord’s coming in Bethlehem, and forward to his coming in glory at the end of time. If we turn away from the pressures of the season for even a short span, we’ll find that it is not only we who wait; the Lord is waiting for us, patiently, ready to fill us with his peace.