As we turn to our last week of our Cultivating Gratitude series, I invite us to begin making our Advent preparations. St. Ignatius invites us to prepare the day before for the next day’s prayer. Let us use this coming week to prepare for the holy season of Advent that leads to the Incarnation. I want to share three concrete ways our family carries gratitude into Advent.
This week, we will set up our Advent wreath on our kitchen table. This tradition carries forth a tradition from my own childhood that my mom instilled in us. On the First Sunday of Advent, we bless our Advent Wreath with these words:
Lord our God, we praise you for your son, Jesus Christ:
He is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
He is the wisdom that teaches us and guides us,
He is the savior of every nation.
Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each night, as we gather around the table for dinner, we light the appropriate candle and say the prayer for the week. This ritual cultivates gratitude by the symbolism of the darkness of our world not being overcome. As we mark the weeks of Advent, I am reminded both of the darkness in our world and also the Light of Christ that was embodied in its fullness of the Incarnation.
Watching the Advent candle light dance and light up my husband and children’s eyes reminds me of the reason I can hope in the first place – because of the source of our hope, the Incarnation.
When the Advent Wreath comes out, so do our nativity sets. Each one has a special meaning behind it. One my parents bought us when we first got married. One my colleagues at the Diocese of Baton Rouge gave me when I left full-time ministry work at the diocese to stay home with our first child, Brady. Others, friends gave me, and others, we bought on trips. We pull out the kids’ nativity set that my Aunt Marian also gave us at our first Christmas as parents. Now, twelve years old with lovingly worn parts and chewed on pieces, our youngest daughter still squeals with joy when the box is opened to pull this nativity out. She instantly sets it up and begins her long season of “imaginative prayer play” making up her own stories of how Jesus was born.
Having the nativity sets out in our home reminds us of what the upcoming season is really about. It reminds me of the humble beginnings of this Holy Family, and that as Pope Francis said at his visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families: “And His Son, where did He send Him? To a palace? To a city, to start a business? He sent Him to a family! God came into the world in a family.”
I invite you this Advent to set up a nativity set in your home to remind you of the gratitude of God delivering on his long-awaited promise of the Messiah.
A new tradition that we began about four years ago during Advent is the Jesse tree. Each morning, while our kids are eating breakfast before school we place a Jesse tree ornament on a small artificial Christmas tree on our kitchen island. I found this set of wooden Jesse tree ornaments and accompanying book on Etsy.
This morning ritual of walking through the long-history of our salvation story often moves me deeply. As the tree fills through the month of December, I stand in awe of God’s long-history of goodness and how much God can be trusted because of the multitude of promises he made and kept. Even as an adult, this practice of the Jesse Tree cultivates gratitude for the gift of faith in my life and the line of people of which I am somehow part of who walk the journey of faith.
If you have never done the Jesse Tree, consider making this part of your Advent this year. You can make your own with directions from Loyola Press, printable coloring sheets or purchase a set of Jesse Tree ornaments.
Go Deeper with a few of my favorite things:
While not all of these are tied specifically into Advent, I did want to share a few more items in our home that inspire gratitude within me.
- 24 Advent Stories – Each day is a short story following Benjamin Bear and his Mother who are on a journey following the Christ star.
- Plush Mary & Jesus – Every time I see my daughter, Mary, with her lovey Mary, my heart warms at the gift of Mother Mary in my life.
- Leo’s Gift – I can harldy get through this book without crying! A young boy is searching for his gift. He discovers his gift is music, and he learns how to share his gift with an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s. (Parental wanring: bring tissue!)
- Shhhh…God is in the Silence – A newly released book by Loyola Press that celebrates the gift of God meeting us in the silence.
- Sharing the Wisdom of Time – If you are looking for a meaningful gift to give this year, I invite you to check out Loyola Press’ new book, Sharing the Wisdom of Time. As you may gather from my writings, my grandparents are a significant part of my life. This book celebrates the wisdom of their generation.
- Registration is now open for the Online Busy Person’s Retreat, January 14-17, 2019
- November 30-December 2, 2018: Santa Clara Faith Formation Conference
- December 6, 2018: Diocese of Joliet Day of Reflection for Directors of Religious Education
- December 11, 2018: Women of the Well Evening of Reflection
- December 16, 2018: St. Margaret’s Theology in a Bottle, Albany, LA “Spirituality of a Busy Person”