It’s sounding a lot like Christmas around here with Christmas songs playing everywhere I go. When I hear the classics like Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry, or anything off the Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait, I travel twenty-five years back in time to my childhood. Music has a way of triggering memories tucked far away, doesn’t it? For me, I was reminded of my Dad, a great family man who had what many coin “the Christmas Spirit”. He was the Dad who set cheesy yard decorations out on the lawn, put lots of colorful lights up and around the house, and bought lots of fun and silly “stuffers” for our Christmas stockings (apples, oranges, and peanuts always included).
I was caught a little off guard by the flood of memories this weekend; my initial reaction was to shut them off and move on to other thoughts. You see, on September 30, 2009, my beloved Dad was killed while working in his yard. One minute, he was a healthy fifty-eight year old man sending an email to his men’s group from church; sixty minutes later he died. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t long to hear his chuckle and see his contagious smile, or feel his arms wrapped around me in a gentle hug while saying, “Love ya, Sis.” Our life changed literally in the blink of an eye.
Given Dad’s sudden and shocking death, the Gospel reading from this past Sunday’s Mass, the first of the Advent season, has taken up a new dwelling in my heart. From Matthew 24:37-44, Jesus’ statement to his disciples, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come,” means a whole lot more now than it did fifteen months ago. Dad’s death serves as bold reminder that this could be the last Advent I experience.
The Christmas music I’m hearing lately has offered many opportunities to reminisce about about the past, especially how Dad made Christmas a special time for our family every year. And while Jesus’ birth occurred 2,000 years ago and much reminiscing is still done about that and the Incarnation, Advent provides an opportunity to celebrate the present reality—the reality that Jesus’ coming isn’t just something that happened in the past. He is just as present today when we celebrate the Mass as he was 2,000 years ago. The Word made flesh is indeed alive and active. Just as I experienced this past Sunday’s Gospel reading in a new and profound way, God uses Scripture to strike different chords in our hearts that resonate with us at particular times and places in our lives. Yes, the Word—Jesus—is ever present to each of us, often when we need Him the most.
This Advent, I pray I will be more prepared than ever to fully welcome Christ into my heart, not only on Christmas, but when He comes to call me home…after all, we know not the day nor the hour. In order to prepare for His coming, I am incorporating a few intentional spiritual practices to help me “stay awake”.
- Read the daily Mass readings. No excuses, even if it means staying up an extra fifteen minutes on those days when I’m simply exhausted.
- Pray the St. Andrew novena together as a family once a day.
- Spend one hour a week with Jesus in Eucharist Adoration.
- Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Say “No,” joyfully and with conviction to any invitation or request that will unnecessarily pull me away from my family.
My goal with these spiritual endeavors is to unclutter my heart so that it has more capacity to receive Jesus in love and with eager anticipation as He comes to me throughout this season. As you prepare to welcome Christ into your heart this Advent, what you are doing to “stay awake”?