Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. It the beginning of a rich season of anticipation and preparation.
For centuries Christians have used the month prior to the celebration of Christ’s incarnation to ready their hearts and their homes for the great festival. While we moderns tend to do a good bit of bustling about in the crowded hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas--shopping for presents, compiling guest lists, mailing holiday greeting cards, perusing catalogs, decorating hearth and home, baking favorite confections, and getting ready for one party after another--this hardly constitutes the kind of preparation Advent calls for.
Indeed, traditionally Advent has been a time of quiet introspection, personal examination, and repentance. It is a time to slow down, to take stock of the things that matter the most, and to do a thorough inner housecleaning. Advent is, as the earliest Christians asserted, a Little Pascha--a time of fasting, prayer, confession, and reconciliation.
All the great Advent stories, hymns, customs, and rituals--from the medieval liturgical antiphons and Scrooge’s Christmas Carol to the lighting of Advent candles and the eating of Martinmas beef are attuned to this notion: that the best way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to make straight His pathway in our hearts.