What if "slowing down," "being quiet" and "resting from the holiday hustle" is not really possible for you?
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The season of Advent has experienced a huge resurgence in recent years, and with good reason. Christians of all denominations have seen the need to spiritually prepare themselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Pick up any Advent devotional and you are likely to read advice to slow down, take time for quiet, and rest from the holiday bustle.
The problem is that some of us may not be able to slow down. Many of us are in circumstances that allow for very little rest because of the people depending on us. What if you can’t opt out of shopping, traveling, or events this holiday season? Or what if you don’t even want to?
I know for myself I look forward to these things all year, and they add such a bright spot to the humdrum of life. I started to wonder — can I throw myself into holiday projects and tasks and still spiritually prepare for Christmas? Is there an Advent for extroverts?
Inspiration from John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary
I found a clue in a homily given last Advent by our transitional deacon. He preached about John the Baptist, who is the opposite of a quiet figure in the Bible. Instead, his role is to cry out, to “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John’s entire role is active; he is constantly crying out to let the people know that Jesus is coming.
Our Lady is often given as an example of quiet contemplation, but re-reading the story of the Annunciation I noticed a new detail: As soon as Mary has received the message from the angel, the very first thing she does is to “go in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
We don’t know whether Mary went to support Elizabeth in her pregnancy or if she was looking for support herself from her older relative. All we know is that Mary considered this visit an essential part of preparation to receive Jesus. It was not yet the time for Mary to hold things in her heart; it was the time for her too to cry out, as she enthusiastically returns Elizabeth’s greeting with “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Worship takes work
The reality is that all worship takes work. Ask any parish priest, and he will tell you about all the practical preparation that goes into public Masses and devotions, especially for important holy days. During Advent, many of us who are parents try to teach our children about the season in a variety of ways, from using a Jesse Tree to teach about the ancestry of Jesus to celebrating the feasts of St. Nicholas or St. Lucy. But someone has to buy the items, bake the special foods, and fill the shoes late at night. Someone has to plan the liturgies for the domestic church.
It’s not that we don’t need to take a few minutes for quiet and prayer. Every extrovert knows that we need to be reminded of that! But what if instead of thinking of all the Advent and Christmas preparations as a distraction from worship, we thought of them as a form of worship?
The Second Vatican Council speaks of this very aspect of Christian life,
“Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ.” [Propositio 5, quoted in Christifideles Laici]
We are creatures of body and soul, and the work of our hands can become the work of our hearts if that is our desire. So for those whose Advent is filled with busyness instead of quiet, know that like John the Baptist, we can use our work and our voice to “prepare a way for the Lord.”