By Elsa Baughman
I remember reading years ago in a religious column that the only place where Advent has not disappeared is in the church. It usually begins at the end of November or early December, when people are thinking more about Christmas presents, parties and activities than preparing themselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. This liturgical season of anticipation can be very noisy, surrounded by secular music, lights, and television, newspaper and radio ads urging us to buy gifts for this or that special person.
When we go to church on the four Sundays of Advent we are reminded of the true meaning of this season by the Scripture readings which reflect on the coming of our savior.
Here in the Diocese of Jackson parishes and missions observe Advent with a variety of activities. Some schedule time for silent prayers and reflection, others hold retreats, candlelight vigils or celebrate daily Mass, and the majority offer penance services.
Just as last year, Pearl St. Jude Young Apostles will pray an illuminated Advent rosary in their rosary garden. In Corinth St. James Parish children brought ornaments (symbols of a Bible story or figure) to place on a “Jesse Tree” while hearing a short story about each character from the ancestry of Jesus during Advent last year.
New Albany St. Francis of Assisi Parish has spiritual reflections on Wednesdays. Every year, Madison St. Francis of Assisi Parish holds an Advent Fair where children make Advent wreaths for their homes.
The church does its best to encourage all of us during these four weeks to center our lives, minds and hearts on the coming of Christ. It’s up to us to hear the message and anticipate his coming, not with fanfare but with a quiet, humble heart, a burning heart.
For me, this year is special. I wanted to do something different to really immerse myself in the “coming” of our King. I bought an Advent wreath! I have been wanting to participate in this tradition for years, but always put it off for one reason or another.
The wreath is an old tradition meant to remind us of the coming of the light of the world. It has three purple candles, symbolizing penitence and preparation, and one pink candle, used on Gaudete Sunday, to symbolize hope. As the days of winter get darker and shorter, we light another candle each week until we welcome Christ, the real light of the world, at Christmas. There are many prayer books and online resources with prayers you can use with your Advent wreath.
As I light each candle on my Advent wreath, I am preparing my heart to receive Christ with a new purpose in life.
I might also try to do something similar to what my sister does during Advent. She makes a list of simple things to do each day during the season – just one per day. For instance, one day she would pray for the intentions of the pope; another day she buys a small toy for a needy child, or calls a friend who is sick or going through a hard time in life. They are all very small sacrifices but with a kind, loving purpose.
During this Advent season, let us prepare our hearts to hear the message of our savior and receive him in all his glory.
(Editor’s note: see page 2 for Advent services and programs in parishes.)