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Advent is a Time to Slow Down and Reflect During Christmas Season

Each candle on an Advent wreath has a special meaning.

MARBLE FALLS — From about the week before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s, life takes on a pace with which I struggle to keep up. The days are still 24 hours long, but with all the events and activities surrounding Christmas, time races by, January arrives, and I feel like I missed Christmas.

It seems like it went by so fast that I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t really get to experience the wonders of this time of year. I made a list of the activities I wanted to enjoy with my family, but when we did them, it felt as if we flew through while gearing up for the next one.

The Christmas season has become one big checklist that we just can’t finish.

What’s the solution? Maybe, it’s something part of the Christmas season that we often just race by.

Advent.

“Advent is a time of waiting that is filled with hope and joy,” explained the Rev. Pedro Garcia-Ramirez of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Marble Falls. “It is not like waiting for something that someone is uncertain about. There is certainty in that Jesus was born, and Advent helps prepare us for his birth.

“It also prepares us for his second coming,” the priest added.

On the surface, that sounds almost overwhelming, but Garcia-Ramirez explained that the period of Advent, which started Sunday, Dec. 3, and culminates Sunday, Dec. 24, allows us an opportunity to focus on Jesus’s birth and second coming in a more deliberate and meaningful manner.

“It’s a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus,” he said. Garcia-Ramirez recommended reading over the story of Jesus’s birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. “It’s good to read and reflect on these scriptures this time of year.”

The church also has a tradition that encourages us to take the time to do that, whether during a service or as a family at home. The Rev. Roberta Goodman of First United Methodist Church of Bertram explained how we can use the four weeks of Advent and an Advent wreath to slow down and pull back from all the craziness that comes with the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Instead of jumping into Christmas, Goodman said, at her church, members ease into it.

The Advent wreath, which features three purple candles, a pink one (this can also be rose) in a evergreen wreath, and a white candle in the center, serves as a reminder of how to best approach the season. As Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, each candle symbolizes a particular message of a particular week.

“The stages you light the candles — first one and then another the next week — it’s a discipline that you’re not doing it all at one time,” Goodman said. “In the church, it’s also how we make our way through the season.”

Each week of Advent has a particular message with it, symbolized by a corresponding candle. These are hope (first week), love (second week), joy (third week), and peace (fourth week). The center white candle is referred to as the Christ candle and is lit Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to acknowledge Jesus’s birth.

Each week of Advent, Goodman said, is a step toward Christmas and a chance to reflect on Jesus’s birth and second coming, but in a more meaningful and progressive manner.

“The Advent hymns in the hymnal are about the coming of peace and justice,” Goodman said. “I think those help us focus on those things. Today, it’s still such a process — bringing peace and justice to our world — and the Advent period helps remind us of that.”

The third candle lit on the third week is the joy candle, which ushers in joyful hymns and songs more associated with Christmas.

Like the weeks of Advent, I see how, instead of jumping into Christmas full force the day after Thanksgiving, we can approach it as a journey, taking smaller steps as we prepare and build toward his birth. Instead of tackling a long list of things we need to do or see this holiday season, maybe scale it back and follow the Advent idea by doing a few one week that focus on hope, followed by love the second, joy the third, and peace the fourth.

Goodman and Garcia-Ramirez also pointed out it’s important to remember that Jesus taught us to serve, a message that often gets lost throughout the year. The Christmas season and Advent are a good time to not only recall that message but put it into practice.

“It’s a season of joy filled with expectation, family gathering, and outreach, especially for those less fortunate,” he said.

The outreach, Garcia-Ramirez explained, is the church actually carrying out Christ’s desire for us to love and help one another.

The story of Jesus’s birth and second coming is one of faith.

“The certainty that’s given to us on this is because of faith,” Garcia-Ramirez said. “Faith is necessary, and it’s what moves us to reach out to those in need. Behind the outreach is the hand of the Lord.”

Outreach is taking care of those in need, Garcia-Ramirez said.

“It’s part of our call to serve and help others,” Goodman said. “It’s our faith in action.”

Which is another way to put the Christmas season in perspective. While making our way to and from all the Christmas events and activities, we should make time to serve, find a place where we are putting others before us. It’s easy to reach in our wallet and make a donation then check off “helping others” on our list, but part of Christ’s call was to do the hard things, step out of our comfort zone, and help others.

So maybe that’s a good way to get this season back where it belongs by helping somewhere that isn’t quite easy for us.

However, Goodman added, it’s important to enjoy the parties as well.

“It is definitely a festive time of the year,” she said. “We need those big festivities and celebrations because it reminds us of Christ’s love and gift for us. We are a joyous people.”

daniel@thepicayune.com

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