In our churches across the diocese, Advent tends to look pretty predictable. We have set colours, prayers, and practices in use from Portage la Prairie to Atikokan. But while there are only four Sundays in Advent, there are some 21 days we spend at work and home. The practices during those days vary from person to person and from family to family. For many, this is a sacred time for themselves and a valuable teaching period for their families.
One father, his children now grown, explains that when they were small, he began putting out a stable and animals on the first Sunday of Advent. Mary and Joseph were set up on the other side of the house, so that as Christmas approached they would come closer and closer to the stable. Finally, on Christmas Eve, the baby would be placed in the manger. This worked well for their family, because the children were able to enter the story through tactile learning. On Christmas Day, the Wise Men would begin their own journey from the other side of the house, slowly moving to join the Holy Family on Epiphany (January 6).
A young mother tells a similar story of inviting her children to join in Advent practice. They use a chocolate calendar from Ten Thousand Villages because the chocolate is fair trade and tells the story of the cocoa farmers who produced it alongside the story of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. She explains that this is important for her because “a journey towards justice is linked with awaiting the Messiah.”
Another family, whose children are now teenagers, still have an Advent wreath on the dinner table and lights the appropriate candles each evening. They observe together the family prayers found in the green Book of Alternative Services (BAS) on page 687. Over the years, this practice has taught both children and parents the importance of stillness, quiet, and patience as they await the Christ Child in the midst of a busy season.
A seminary student, in the midst of her busy routine, has discovered a beautiful online resource put out by Lutheran chaplains in Ontario. At the end of a day full of studies and classes, she quiets herself beside the Advent wreath to read a short reflection, listen to a piece of music, and meditate on the daily art piece. This year’s Advent blog, produced by Lutherans Connect, can be found at lcadventdevotional2014.blogspot.com.
Her friend, a young priest, has found life in rediscovering some of the ancient Advent prayers used in monastic traditions. He uses the O Antiphons, traditionally recited during the seven days before Christmas and found on page 119 of the BAS. Recently, he has also been using the Advent Novena, a meditative prayer dating back to the Middle Ages. Starting on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, it is traditionally recited fifteen times a day until Christmas. A “Novena” is a simple prayer used repeatedly in order to meet God in a place of stillness and meditation. In the case of the Advent Novena, the purpose is to, “help us increase our awareness of the real meaning of Christmas and help us prepare ourselves spiritually for His coming.”
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem,
in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
O my God,
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
[here mention your request]
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and of His Blessed Mother.
Other practices across the diocese are aimed at enabling us to slow down and be still in anticipation of Christ, not an easy task when the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping begins before Advent does! Some have chosen to not shop during December and or to listen only to Advent-themed music. Many put up decorations and listen to music as part of their anticipation during Advent, while others put this off until Christmas Eve. In the BAS, more Advent prayers and meditations can be found on pages 86, 96, 105, and 268-272. No matter what your own practice, may you find room to be still and watch for Christ this season.