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Hallo again to all.

So often on the First Sunday of Advent we find ourselves overwhelmed by the sense that the Church year is passing us by, pushed into the background by secular culture and the secular calendar. 'Advent is upon us, but I'm not READY for Advent.' Advent is when we are supposed to get ready for Christmas, but what helps prepare us for Advent? Argh.

We've been told all of our lives that in Advent we're supposed to wait, contemplate, pray, and 'feel increasingly Christmas-y'. The commercial world around us has been sporting Christmas decor since October, and those places that habitually play background music have been including (secular) Christmas music* for weeks. Ambient pressure to feel Christmas-y.

A new AO columnist, Robin Drake from Virginia USA, provocatively suggests that 'Advent is not really a time for us to get ready for Christmas, and all our temporal preparations are incidental.' You'll find her Advent essay here. It will take only 2 minutes of your time to read it, though you might find yourself thinking about it for much longer.

Advent is not a time for us to get ready for Christmas. It is a time for us to push the secular as far to the side of our lives as we can manage, to clear our faith back to pure essentials. And then wait.

We're not pillar saints. We can't push the secular out of our lives. Even in Advent we have to accomplish all of the obviously secular details of everyday life, such as going to work, buying food and petrol, seeing to family needs, and all that. We can't shun the secular, because it sustains us. The best we can do is push it to the side, creating as much space inside ourselves as we can, while we wait and anticipate.

How to wait? How to wait more faithfully? As silly as it may sound, we've always treasured Advent calendars as a means of staying focused on Advent waiting. Oh, we smile at slick online Advent calendar sites (find them with your favourite search engine), but there is nothing quite like a real tangible physical Advent calendar. The fancy online sites can prevent you from clicking on tomorrow's little door today, but when you have a real Advent calendar on your mantel or countertop or desk or wall, nothing prevents you from opening tomorrow's door today except the knowledge that you must wait. It's not a long wait. Just until tomorrow. But you must wait, or you'll ruin its magic.

Don't fret that Advent calendars count days in December and not days in Advent. This year it is fortuitous that the first day of Advent is also the first day of December, so the secular countdown and church countdown are identical. But in other years we choose to ignore that. Advent calendars begin sometime early in Advent before you're weary of the wait, and end on the first day of Christmastide, which is always in the fourth week of Advent. And don't fret that almost all commercial Advent calendars have secular themes. It's just a game to help you wait.

You can buy an already-made Advent calendar online or in specialty shops. Many cathedral bookshops offer them. Or you can make one. Unless you're very handy and have a lot of time available, you'll probably find it easiest to start with a commercially-made frame or backdrop, then decorate and populate it yourself.

It's not too late to do an Advent calendar. As we write, the First Sunday of Advent is two weeks away. In the world of online retailing, two weeks is an eternity. Almost anything that you want to buy online can be delivered locally in two days or less unless you're a resident of the North Pole or Thurso or Alice Springs. And even if you must use international overseas delivery, there's still time if you order soon. (Here we are channeling the spirit of secular Christmas, urging you to buy something).

Perhaps you've never in your life had an Advent calendar. Maybe you had one when you were six years old and you think they are silly and for children. Maybe you've forgotten all about them. Try it. We think you'll be surprised and pleased at its effect. The Advent calendar guides your wait. It offers 24 little opportunities to wait a wee while, replacing one big requirement to wait four weeks. Baby steps. But also 24 opportunities to let the Holy Spirit make you more ready for Christ.

The latest AO essay 'Finding Faith?' from prolific and longtime AO columnist Pierre Whalon, while not Advent-specific, will give you even more to think about while you are waiting.

See you next week. It won't quite yet be Advent, but we're getting closer.

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17 November 2013

*Once upon a time we were wide-eyed at the very concept of secular Christmas music, but we've gotten used to it.

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