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An Advent Retreat

advent calendarWhat do you do to prepare for the coming of the Saviour? That is, after all, the question that we turn to as we journey through the season of Advent. How we answer this question directly affects how we experience these next few weeks. Furthermore, our experience of Advent directly influences our experience of its fulfilment found in the celebration of Christmas morning.

Of course, the world around us likes to tell us the preparing for Christmas morning is relatively simple. Extravagant? Yes. Elaborate? Absolutely. Exhausting? No question. But the culture’s journey toward December 25th is relatively simple to understand.

It’s about stuff.

It’s about the stuff we need to get done, the stuff we need to eat, the stuff we need to buy, and stuff we need to consume. True to form, one can easily find hints and lists to help organize all that is to be done. For example, Wikihow has a list of “20 steps to Get ready for Christmas.” Not surprisingly, the list begins with “Start organizing your gift list” and “set up a separate bank account.” In fact, all items related on this list relates to ‘stuff’. Even the suggestion of singing carols is predicated on the previous suggestion of ‘buy a Cd with carols on it.”

Wikihow is not alone. The site 101daystochristmas.com also promotes a checklist for Christmas preparation. Just think of it: Christmas preparations starting over 3 months in advance! This site includes gems such as “start buying Christmas magazines”. and “Visit the Butterball website.”  More and more, we are being told that preparing for Christmas is an elaborate process that begins earlier and earlier.  Driven by malls and department stores, the season of Christmas preparation often begins only a breath after Halloween.

Obviously we all have various Advent traditions that will be engaging in this year. And yes, there will be parties that we will want go to, and shopping that needs to be done. Yet with what appears to be a 2 month barrage of Christmas sales, jingles, and the holiday mantra of “more more more!’, it’s hard not to be sucked into the mentality that the journey to Christmas is about how we best execute our consumer plans.

Given that, how can we, as people of faith, step outside of that message, in order to enter into the full anticipation of Christ’s coming? My own diocese attempts to aid its clergy in this by deliberately placing its annual clergy retreat directly before the dawn of Advent. Maybe that’s what we all need – a retreat away from the what we are so constantly bombarded with. Because it’s sad, isn’t it, that the joy of Christmas gets overrun by the labour-some demands that so often mark this season. Perhaps we need to retreat for a little while. While all may not be able to take a few days in silence in a retreat house, we can still enter into that restful place of stillness and silence. Here are four simple hints to help you remain spiritually at peace throughout the advent season.

  • Wake up 10 minutes earlier. Make a coffee or a tea and just sit. Try not to define the time with a need to ‘do’ something. Sit and listen to the silence. Allow that time which is without need and task to be a gift to you. As you wait to start the day, how is that like the manner in which you wait for Christ’s return?
  • Locate your favourite verse in the Bible. If you don’t have one, find one that you like and try to consciously keep it in your mind throughout the day. Try to remember that verse at each different location you find yourself. Repeat it slowly and prayerfully.
  • Cross something off your list. Despite what all the commercials, stores, and various internet checklists say, the fact remains: you don’t have to do everything. Not all the decorations need to be put up; You don’t have to go to every party, or make every meal; Your house doesn’t have to be as twinkly as your neighbours’. Sometimes we put too much on our plate. Sometimes we plan too much. When we cross something off our lists of demands and tasks, we are reminded that there is something of deeper importance at hand. We also release ourselves from the need to have everything perfect.
  • Schedule a time with a friend or loved one. I know it may sound like a lot to put in another appointment in an already busy schedule, but there is extreme value in spending time in fellowship. This helps remind us that the season of Advent is something incredibly intimate and relational. We do not await a present under a tree, or a celebration over eggnog; rather we await the coming of the Saviour. Advent is about fusing this anticipation and longing into our regular lives. “Put on The Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul in last Sunday’s epistle “and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”(Romans13:14) Paul’s words are about a manner in which we engage in the regularity of life, but do so with our eye ever cast towards the coming of our Lord. So, gather for a time of regular living with a friend. Meet for a coffee, a lunch, or even decide to do some Christmas shopping together. Step outside of all the commercial hype in order to cultivate that heart which years for nothing else than the coming of Jesus.

I hope and pray that you can rest amidst the busyness. I hope and pray that you have some time to reflect on God’s gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, received through the birth of our saviour. I pray that you are able to walk through advent with a sense of meditative retreat – so that you may arrive on Christmas Eve with the full preparedness and joy needed to accept the Christ Child afresh in your life.

What are some ways you live out the meaning of advent in your life?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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2 Responses to An Advent Retreat

  1. JK

    I enjoyed reading the Advent Retreat item. We cancelled our gift giving a few years ago. It was one of the best things we ever did. No shopping in crowded stores, no more time-consuming lineups at the post office along with the cost – it cost more to mail than to purchase a gift in some cases, No more worrying about spending too much, no more wondering if what we sent was of any use to the receivers and no more feeling guilty as we take gifts from them that we can’t use to the local charity stores in January.

    We shop for basic groceries only and I go to the charity and consignment stores for decorations etc. – I also donate some so it’s more of a trade each year, as I feel recycling items is better than getting cheap new decorations. I realize you can donate to charity in lieu of a gift, but we’ve carefully chosen certain charities to support and prefer to do this on a monthly bases so they have funds year round.

    What do we do with all the time and energy we have now? We spend our time putting up elaborate outdoor displays including a large full nativity scene for the first time this year. We have time to go outdoors more when the weather co-operates, to read seasonal material and to listen to inspirational music. I follow http://fullhomelydivinity.org/ and keep up with the reading and some suggested activities. It’s a great Advent resource.

  2. Thanks for the ideas, even more, for reminding us to be intentional through Advent.

    I gave myself an assignment for this very purpose. I am photo-blogging through Advent in the themes of the season. I’m currently in the thick of ‘hope’. This exercise has really helped me be more mindful: in how I listen to the news, view my neighbourhood, look at life through the advent lens… I can sense the build-up towards the birth of Christ already. 🙂

    Stop on by if you like: http://www.sightingsofthesubtle.wordpress.com

    Dan.

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