Don’t look now, but Advent is here. Advent is an amazing season that sadly often gets overlooked in all the flurry of gifts and preparation for Christmas. It’s not just a chaotic time of year on that count, for many people work is extra stressful as people scramble to meet end-of-year goals and just try to get things done so they can take a bit of a vacation for the holidays. It’s easy to lose track of the spiritual meaning of Advent. I’m going to make it really simple for you. Advent is about 2 things:
1) Making Space
2) Filling that space with Christ
I want to share 3 areas to do this: physical space, mental space, and emotional space.
Making physical space is a great way to make space in Advent. Oftentimes this is built in to traditions and practices that you may already do. Setting up a manger scene, Christmas tree, and other forms of decoration often involve making the space to put them up in the first place. As simple as that sounds, what we do with our physical space matters. Christ became flesh and in doing so signified for us the importance of the material world. By intentionally making physical space in our environment, we are engaging our bodies in the work that our soul is undertaking. This unity can be powerful.
Christmas and Advent decorations, even most modern ones, are rooted in traditions based on Christ. If you’re unsure if or how the decorations that you love relate back to him, a quick Google search will give you that answer. Even if you aren’t a big decorator, just clear a space and if you want leave it empty. Let it be a reminder that physical things never fill us up. We have an empty space that only God can fill.
Mental space is a little bit harder to do on a regular basis. While clearing physical space is a one and done event, making mental space is more of a habit. The things that occupy our minds are all across the spectrum, from a Christmas song we love all the way down to holiday fears, anxiety, and stress. Our minds can be constantly on spin cycle with all the things going on any given day. Making mental space just means finding some way to turn that off. Maybe it’s turning off the radio or the news. Maybe it’s turning off the tv a little early. There’s lots of ways, but the gist is to take your mind off of whatever is normally occupying it for a short period of time.
There’s lots of ways then to fill that time with Christ. I recently started a podcast with Fulton Sheen’s Life is Worth Living. I usually listen while driving. I’ll be honest, I don’t always follow it closely, but having that on in the background even if I’m not fully focused still nudges my thoughts towards Christ. As mentioned above, you can do some research into Christmas traditions, decorations, and their meanings. There’s lots of literature you could turn to as well, from short stories to long books. The point is simply to think about Christ in some way.
Creating emotional space may be the hardest of these 3, simply because emotional regulation isn’t something many of us have much conscious practice with. From our early days we’re told to keep our rooms clean and focus at school, which is effectively the groundwork of creating emotional and mental space. There’s not really an emotional equivalent. The goal with emotional space is to take a step back from our emotional whirlwind. Holidays are jam packed with every emotion from stress to excitement to giddiness to sorrow. Consciously trying to calm those emotions and give ourselves some space from them creates emotional space.
Filling that emotional space with Christ can be one of the most rewarding forms of prayer. You’re trying to empathize with God in salvation history. You can take this from the cosmic level all the way down to the details. Imagine what God may have felt as he sent his son to Earth. Imagine what Jesus was feeling in Heaven as he prepared for his incarnation.* What did Joseph feel as he prepared for a trip to Jerusalem with Mary? Or what did Mary feel about traveling, and knowing that she would soon give birth to the Son of God? There’s a lot of scenarios that you can imagine and try to empathize with. This gets your heart seeking the Lord.
These 3 ways of making space and filling it with Christ will prepare your heart well for the celebration that Advent prepares us for, the birth of Christ. Hopefully you can work at least one of these into your Advent this year, and that as a result when Christ comes knocking at the door of your heart, you have plenty of room to welcome him in.
*This kind of prayer is not based in logic or analytical theology. How does a God existing outside of time prepare for anything if time is all one to him? Logically, it’s impossible. But there is still spiritual fruit to be gained by seeking to unite our hearts with the heart of God. Christ himself gave us some very emotional and evocative parables, so while God may not “feel” as we do, we are made in his image and likeness and our feelings are analogous to something within the heart of God or we would not have them. It is good to seek to unite our emotions and hearts to God’s.