Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

Advent Week One

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

Last modified: August 15, 2018 By Bethany Swanson

When I walked into the coffee shop near my house, I saw a display for a Christmas survival kit. The kit included gingerbread cookies and a few other treats.

While the items themselves would make a nice gift set, the name made me ask myself some questions:

  • Why do people need a Christmas survival kit?
  • Am I just surviving the holidays this year?
  • Should our Christmas preparations be so stressed-filled?

More Than Just Surviving

I’d really prefer to do more than just survive as I prepare for Christmas and I’m sure you would too. Luckily the Church gives us this time of year so that we can prepare for the coming of the Christ-child. This looks a lot different from the hustle and bustle of the season.

As we light the first candle on the Advent Wreath we slow down and reflect on hope. Christ doesn’t require you to spend hours looking for the perfect gift online or expect you to to do every holiday tradition possible. He just asks for you—for your time in prayer and that you find your hope in Him. He just wants to fill your heart with His love.

This Advent I want to have more hope in my life and to have a mindset that’s centered on Christ and eternity. Let’s do more than survive this Advent. Let’s have a hope-filled Advent.

Hope in Christ Throughout The Season

Christ came into a world full of sin and hatred to give us eternal life. Oftentimes, I can find myself turning more to fear than to hope. But if He loves us this much, what do we have to be afraid of? We can face any disappointment and still have hope in Christ. That’s what Christmas is all about.

We can  (and should) still hope for worldly things. If you are hoping to meet the right person, that is a good thing! We know that God cares about us and wants to take care of us, even in the ordinary things.

Of course, things may not happen in our timeline or the way we imagine, but we can rest in the hope that God cares for us. He will provide for us even in challenging circumstances, or when the holidays are lonely.

He came to give us fullness of life, and that’s a life in Him.

Daily Hope Through The Duration

During Advent, I to look at a manger scene and meditate upon the sheer amazingness of the Incarnation. We can imagine the time before Christ came into this world and the hope that people held in His coming. As we wait for Christmas, we can fill our lives with hope for his coming, just as people did before that first Christmas. When Christ comes, how will he change your life?

Whenever you see a nativity scene this Advent remember that you too can daily welcome Christ with your own “yes” into every aspect of our life. He came into the world at a time of political unrest, surrounded by the messiness of the stable.

He had a very humble beginning even though He is the King of Kings, but He came so that He could enter into the messiness and brokenness of our lives. If we let Christ enter into our heart He can transform it. He can give us rest when we are weary this Advent.

Signs of Hope In Experience

It’s challenging to keep hoping for the right things. My hope isn’t found in Black Friday sales, in my plans for my family’s future, or in the next feel-good Hallmark movie I watch.

Maybe you find yourself hoping in finding a spouse or in having a job promotion. It’s great to have hope in the future or to think that your dreams will come true, but it’s important to remember that ultimately none of these things can fill the place of Christ in your life or give you a lasting hope.

Many day-to-day experiences give me hope too, the barista who remembers my order, the doctor who takes time to listen and answer my questions, or the generosity I see in my local neighborhood. Even though these moments are temporary, they remind me of Christ’s love.

Preparing Our Hearts

This first week of Advent we are preparing a place in our hearts for Christ – for welcoming the greatest gift imaginable into our hearts.

Do you want this Christmas to be different? Do you want peace amidst the holiday hubbub and your list of to-dos? Let us spend more time making room in our hearts for Christ and less time worried about the gifts we buy. This can be really challenging to do.

Here’s a small reflection to help you get started:

  • What are my priorities this Advent? Do they reflect the true reason for Christmas?
  • Are there areas of my life that are more founded on fear than on hope?
  • Have I surrendered the hard parts of my life, my messiness or brokenness, to Christ? Or have I hardened my heart to the idea of hope?
  • How can I make more room for Jesus in my heart during these upcoming weeks?
  • How can I do more than survive as I prepare for Christmas?

During Advent, we remember that God the Father created us and that He has a good plan for us. He keeps His promises and is faithful. Take some time this Advent to meditate on God’s goodness and great mercy in sending his only son this Christmas. Your heart longs to allow Jesus to come into your heart daily, it’s the greatest gift you can ever receive.

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Haven’t Been to Confession in Years? This Priest Provides 3 Great Ways to Prepare Your Heart This Advent

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,” St. John the Baptist said as he repeated Isaiah’s words. (Luke 3:4)

John the Baptist calls us to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord and to be ready for Christ’s arrival, not only in a general way into the world, but also in a particular way into each one of our hearts.

This voice crying out in the wilderness is telling us to be alert, ready, and prepared–to make straight our paths, for the Lord is coming, the Lamb of God is coming, Christ is coming!

The best way prepare for Jesus’ coming is take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation this Advent season. This is something we are all called to do.

If you feel that calling and desire to go to Confession during this Advent season, it’s important to prepare for receiving this wonderful sacrament.

Here are three ways in which we can do that:

1) Be prepared before going into the confessional

Central to our preparation before going to confession is an examination of conscience. 

In other words, we reflect on how long it’s been since our last Confession and what kind of sins we have committed during that time.

Don’t worry, you are not the only sinner out there! Every one of us struggles with temptation and sin.

As a newly ordained priest and confessor, I have learned that many people struggle with the same kinds of sins.

One of the devil’s tactics in keeping us in our sinful ways is making us think that we are alone. But this is a lie. We are not alone in our fight against temptation and sin.

All of us are called to examine ourselves and see where we have failed to do the Lord’s will in our lives.

2) Be prepared during confession

As we enter the confessional and begin the sacrament, we can prepare ourselves by opening our hearts to God’s love, mercy, and grace that He pours upon us through His priest.

In his book Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote about the importance of listening to the priest in the confessional:

“Go to your confessor; open your heart to him; reveal to him all the recesses of your soul, and accept the advice he [the priest] gives you with the utmost humility and simplicity.

“God has infinite love for obedience. He often makes profitable the counsels we take from others, especially [from] those who guide our souls [our priests].”

In this way, we can be ready to be formed by the priest’s advice and by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts in that sacramental moment.

3) Be prepared after Confession

How can we be prepared after our Confession?

We can prepare to do penance and understand that we are strengthened to turn away from sin.

It is important to do the penance the priest gives us ( praying so many Our Fathers or Hail Marys), but we shouldn’t think that penance is a condition for God’s mercy.

God’s forgiveness is limitless and doesn’t depend on our doing penance.

However, penances help us to make satisfaction for our sin and help us to re-establish good, holy habits. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1494)

In addition to penance, God gives us the grace in this sacrament not to sin again.

While this sacrament is about confessing our sins and offering our failings to God, it’s also about receiving the strength and the grace to be better Christians, to be better followers of Christ.

And of course, we are imperfect human beings, who will eventually fail again and again. But we have God’s constant love, mercy, and forgiveness to help us along our spiritual journeys.

Preparing for confession can help us prepare for Christ’s coming this Christmas season

We can prepare before going to Confession by examining our conscience, during Confession by being open to the Holy Spirit’s work through the priest, and after Confession in our resolve not to sin again and to cooperate with God’s wonderful grace.

Let us ask for the grace to run forth to be reconciled with God through the sacrament of Reconciliation so our hearts may be truly prepared for Christ’s coming at Christmas. 

[See also: 5 Conditions for a Good Confession Every Catholic Needs to Know, In One Infographic]

[See also: 6 Things You Should Do While You’re Waiting in Line for Confession]

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Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas – The Gospel Coalition | Australia

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

The Christmas season brings with it a heightened feeling that something wonderful is coming.

Can you sense it?

a faint sound in the distance drawing nearer. the waiting at the airport to be reunited with a loved one as they emerge from the terminal. the moment right before the sun peaks out from behind the horizon. a promise about to come true. Something wonderful is coming.

“For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”  (Frederick Buechner)

Advent. It means, something wonderful is coming.

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, a season in the liturgical calendar that starts every year on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It is a time for making room and priming our hearts to treasure Christ. And yet amid all the frenetic end-of-year chaos, it’s far too easy to squander these precious moments of waiting.

We know all too well what it is for December to blur by and to arrive on the doorstep of Christmas as another exhausted casualty of our consumeristic age.Amid all the frenetic end-of-year chaos, it’s far too easy to squander these precious moments of waiting.

We know all too well what it is to arrive on the doorstep of Christmas as another exhausted casualty of our consumeristic age.

Reacting … Organizing … Shopping … Planning … Wrapping … Budgeting … Stressing … Eating … Stress-eating.

So I am writing to those, me, who need to slow down and embrace the oft-missed words of the famous carol, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

Advent: A Season of Remembering

As we remember God’s promises fulfilled at Christmas, we are reminded of just how intensely the incarnation of Christ shook the world! The meaning of Christmas goes miles deeper than a public holiday, family traditions, pretty lights, and a chance to refresh your depleted stockpile of socks.

Christmas means revolution! Christmas means miracle! Christmas means that God has come to us!

The King of Heaven exchanged His throne for a cradle.The Almighty swaddled Himself with vulnerability.The Creator entered into His own creation.The Author put Himself on the page.The Infinite became an infant.The Giver became the gift.

Jesus came as Immanuel—‘God with us.’ Remembering that God has drawn near, deepens in me an appetite to seek Him.

Advent: A Season of Anticipating

There is something in observing Advent that awakens not only joyful remembrance over the first coming of Christ, but also a deep, yearning eagerness for His second coming (Revelation 22:20).

In many ways, the Church of this present age is in a similar position to God’s people toward the end of the Old Testament—marginalised in exile, hoping in the darkness, waiting in the stillness for the Day when Christ returns and (in Tolkien’s words) “makes every sad thing come untrue.”

a child on Christmas Eve caught between the joyful memories of the Christmas that was, while waiting with breathless anticipation for the Christmas about to be, so are God’s people living between the Hallelujah! of Christ’s resurrection and the Maranatha! of Christ’s return.

It is here—in the waiting of Advent—that God’s people discover a unique species of joy that can only be glimpsed through the lens of worshipful anticipation.

Timothy Paul Jones writes, “In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning, recognizing it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for the divine banquet Jesus is preparing for us. In Advent, the church admits, as poet R. S.

Thomas puts it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent yet to come. Just as the ancient Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah in flesh, we await the coming of the Messiah in glory.

In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word.”

Advent is a way of reminding us that we are pilgrims passing through, that the brokenness of this world isn’t how it’s always going to be, that the true King will indeed soon return.

Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas

with all things, knowing where to begin is usually the most difficult part. Below are some resources that will help you (and your family) slow down each day and cultivate worshipful anticipation through the Advent season. For families, observing Advent together might just be the perfect time to rekindle the fire of family devotions, or light them up for the very first time.

December will be busy. But it doesn’t have to be a blur. Let’s begin preparing room in our hearts this Advent for Immanuel—the God who is with us.


  • Individuals: Come Let us Adore Him by Paul Tripp (Amazon) (Koorong e-book)
  • Families: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (Amazon) (Koorong)
  • Free: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper (free download)
  • Free: Austin Stone Church have put out a brilliant advent devotional the past few years that can be accessed here.

Photos (from top): J. Cockburn, 123edhouse; flickrOriginally published at //

Adam Ramsey leads Liberti Church, a gospel-centred family of churches on the Gold Coast, and also serves as the network director for Acts 29 Australia/New Zealand. Adam is deeply passionate about preaching the gospel, loves being married to Kristina, wrestling with his five kids, and equipping church planters.

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The History and Meaning of the Advent Calendar

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

The Advent calendar is an ever-present part of the Christmas season. Rooted in a tradition that spans centuries of church history, the modern version of the Advent calendar has been around since the nineteenth century.

Emerging from a Protestant Christian context, Advent calendars carry an underlying spiritual message of anticipation and hope.

By helping us remember and reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ, Advent calendars can be a valuable aid for Christian families.  

What is Advent?

From the Latin word adventus, meaning “arrival” or “coming,” Advent is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Along with Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, the season of Advent is a part of the liturgical year, or church calendar, which dates back over 1,500 years and is observed in many Christian traditions.

Even in traditions that do not practice the church calendar, Advent is often observed as a part of the Christmas season.

Beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and leading up to the festivities of December 25, Advent is intended to be a time in which we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

The season of Advent is marked by themes of self-reflection, anticipation, hope, and, ultimately, joyful celebration of the Savior’s coming.

These themes carry a dual meaning, first giving shape to our remembrance of Christ’s birth, then encouraging us as we await His second coming.

The History of the Advent Calendar

Among the many traditions that have sprung up to accompany the Advent season over the years (e.g., a wreath with candles, the Jesse Tree, etc…), one of the simplest and most popular is the Advent calendar.

Instead of strictly following the four-week Advent period, which can start anywhere from November 27 to December 3, an Advent calendar typically begins on December 1 and counts down the days until Christmas.

Advent calendars now come in many forms, but the tradition began simply enough when German families in the mid-nineteenth century started counting the days until Christmas by tallying chalk marks on a door or wall.

Variations of the countdown included lighting a candle or hanging a religious picture for each day leading up to Christmas Eve.

Some families began making homemade Advent calendars to accompany their countdown and by the early 1900s, a few publishing companies and newspapers had produced simple printed calendars.

The popularity of Advent calendars spread with the help of a German printer named Gerhard Lang.

Having grown up with a homemade calendar, Lang began designing cardboard Advent calendars around the turn of the century and, later in the 1920s, came up with the idea of cutting out little doors that could be opened each day.

Behind each door, a devotional picture or Bible verse was hidden. With this innovation, Lang is considered the father of the modern Advent calendar.

Paper rationing during World War II halted the production of Advent calendars for a time. With the resolution of the war, a few printing companies revived the tradition, and the calendars began to catch on once again.

Their popularity in America was boosted by images of President Dwight Eisenhower opening an Advent calendar with his grandchildren in the 1950s. By that time, many calendars began including simple gifts, such as chocolate or a small toy, behind each door.

Since then, the popularity of Advent calendars has continued to grow, even crossing over into non-religious contexts.

The Meaning Behind the Advent Calendar

While many outside the Christian tradition enjoy their yearly countdown calendar (and its hidden treats), the meaning behind the Advent calendar remains steeped in religious themes.

More than just a countdown, marking the days of Advent serves as a time of spiritual reflection and preparation.

Advent is a season of waiting, calling to mind the longing and anticipation of God’s people who, for centuries, awaited the coming Messiah.

Counting down the days of Advent can help us consider what it must have been waiting for the promised Messiah, generation after generation.

It gives us an opportunity to lament the reason we needed a savior to come in the first place—our sin—and also to remember God’s past faithfulness to us. On this side of the cross, we know that Israel’s long season of expectation culminated in the birth of Jesus Christ.

wise, our yearly season of Advent culminates in the celebration of Christmas; but first we walk through a season in which we prepare for the feast.

In addition to commemorating God’s faithfulness in the past, keeping Advent also helps us look ahead with hopeful anticipation.

Advent puts us in the habit of watching and waiting, which is a helpful practice because Christians still live in a state of anticipation: We are waiting for Christ’s return.

By looking back at His first Advent, we prepare ourselves to live in joyful expectation of His second Advent. By keeping these themes in mind, something as simple as an Advent calendar can help ready our hearts to celebrate the gift of God’s Son.

How to Use an Advent Calendar with your Family

There are many unique styles of Advent calendars. Some are overtly Christian while others play to the more secularized and generic aspects of the holiday season. For families who want to keep their focus on Christ during the Christmas season, using a nativity-themed Advent calendar is an excellent choice.

Other calendars highlight Bible stories that tell the history of God’s people leading up to Jesus. The spiritual focus of these Advent calendars is built right into the countdown, often in the form of short written devotionals that accompany the calendar.

These types of calendars are an easy way to help families start an edifying Advent tradition. 

While Christian-themed Advent calendars can be a helpful tool, many families are able to keep the focus on Christ while counting down with a calendar that doesn’t feature an overtly religious design.

These calendars simply facilitate the countdown, leaving it to the parents to be intentional about engaging their family with an Advent-themed devotional.

Whether it’s a LEGO countdown kit or a cardboard display filled with chocolate treats, the Advent calendar itself is an object lesson in building anticipation and can be a fun reason to gather the family to create a context for spiritual conversations.

Sample Devotional for an Advent Calendar Day

Similar to the days when early Advent calendars revealed a Bible verse or religious image of some sort, many calendars today are designed with a devotional intent.

Each day may include a short Bible passage related to the coming of Christ that can be used for personal reflection or family discipleship.

Here’s an example of a brief family devotional that might accompany one of the days of Advent in your home:

Genesis 3:15

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Devotional Thought:

Although His perfect creation had just been corrupted by the arrival of sin, God promised that sin and Satan would not have the final victory. The Rescuer would come to crush Satan, ending his rebellion against God. His people may have been under the curse of sin, but God promised them that He would fight for them and win them back to Himself.

Questions for Review & Reflection:

  • “Enmity” means that two things are against each other. What set God and Satan against each other? (Satan turned against God and then tempted man to do the same.)
  • Who does this verse say will defeat Satan in the end? (The offspring of woman; this points to Jesus.)
  • How does it make you feel knowing that God has already written the end of the story? (It gives us confidence that God is in control.)
  • Christ is our great Victor, defeating an enemy that we never could. Knowing that He intercedes on our behalf, meditate on what this means to you.
[This family devotional is adapted from The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent]

Scott James serves as an Elder at The Church at Brook Hills. He and his wife, Jaime, have 4 children and live in Birmingham, AL, where he works as a pediatric physician.

He is the author of two family worship books (The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent and Mission Accomplished: A Two-Week Family Easter Devotional) as well as the illustrated children's book The Littlest Watchman.

Also by Scott James on Crosswalk: Why Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh Were Given to Baby Jesus

This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

What is Christmas? Understanding History, Origin and Traditions
Christmas Eve History and Traditions
What is Advent: Definition & Meaning Behind Christmas Tradition
Advent Wreath & Candles – Understanding the History, Meaning, and Tradition
Christmas Bible Verses & Scripture Story

Photo credits in order of appearance: ©Pixabay/CongerDesign, ©Unsplash/MariaBrauer, ©Pexels/TorstenDettlaff, ©Pixabay/CongerDesign, ©Unsplash/MadaraParma

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Why the Ancient Practice of Advent Matters, Now More Than Ever

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

This is the first time in several years that I’m actually looking forward to the Christmas season. I know that’s not terribly “Christian” of me to say, but hear me out.

Two years ago, for whatever reason, I officially became burned-out on the cultural overwhelm demanded of us during the season. Be it through well-meaning blog posts, outside obligations on our calendar, or the stores bombarding me with more, more, more — I was tapped. Done. I needed a break.

Last year, our family traveled, and even though we paused to recognize both Thanksgiving and Christmas, they were kept ridiculously simple.

We had no extended family pressures, no cultural surroundings that took decor and kitschy music to eleven, or even extra room in our backpacks for more than a few small gifts.

Last year’s togetherness was a balm to my soul, so weary was I from our typical, westernized approach to the season.

So now, after a brief hiatus, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get back to it.

I’m truly thankful for our holiday heritage as followers of Christ. So this year, my deliberate, intentional recognition of Advent — as a real, bonafide season in the Christian calendar — will hopefully create an ever-growing stream of celebration, one drip, drip, drip of water at a time, until the overflowing river of Christmas celebration come December 25.

Photo source

I Rachel Telander’s thought on Advent in Let Us Keep the Feast:

“Advent is one of the hardest seasons of the church year to celebrate in today’s culture. As soon as Thanksgiving arrives, we are bombarded by Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas everything. We are so saturated by Christmas that we often skip over one of the most important parts: the preparation.

You wouldn’t throw a party without preparing the food and drinks; you wouldn’t visit a friend without getting ready. We are about to remember the most awe-inspiring thing that happened in the whole of history: God becoming man in the glory and mystery of the incarnation.

We need to set aside time to prepare ourselves for this — internally and externally.”

Advent is a gift to us in the modern hectic world. Here’s why:

For one, we better remember what it was to wait for the Messiah. Two thousand-plus years after Jesus’ earthly existence, it’s hard for us to imagine life not knowing when the God of the universe was going to finally send forth the Messiah people had been waiting for for centuries.

Pausing just a bit before the full-on celebration we anticipate on December 25 tempers our hearts as we remember that Jesus divinely entered humanity at a specific time in history. It sobers us in our own humanity.

I what Haley Stewart says: “It is the opportunity to set your life by a different watch, by holy time.”

photo source

Advent also keeps the season of Christmas preparation on Jesus. So many people bemoan the secularization of the Christmas season, but recognizing Advent is such a simple way to go against that flow.

Whether we prepare our hearts through a Jesse tree, Advent wreath, or a simple evening devotional, drawing out the season of preparation can’t help but reorient our focus from all the gift-buying-cookie-baking-party-attending flurry towards the original, ancient reason for the upcoming holy-day.

Finally, and perhaps my favorite reason — it makes Christmas even merrier! We’re not recognizing Advent because we don’t Christmas — we’re doing it because we love Christmas.

Keeping the season before December 25 about our heart’s preparation means that when the day comes for recognizing God Incarnate, the true Immanuel, it will be bonafide feast!

Let the sweet things fill our tables and let us be merry and glad, for God sent His Son to walk among us and bring forth the new era: when the curtain was torn and we became fully free from our sin. A true reason to celebrate!

I recently shared some ways our family will keep a simple Advent this year, including useful resources, books, and music to orient our hearts on the birth of the Messiah. Perhaps they’ll be a blessing to you as well?

Let the sweet things fill our tables and let us be merry and glad, for God sent His Son to walk among us. {Tweet this!}

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Preparing Our Hearts Through Advent Readings

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

Preparing our hearts through Advent readings is one of many ways my husband and I attempt to show our children, and the watching world, that Christ is everything to us.

By April Swiger, Contributing Writer

Advent is a season of anticipatory waiting. As Christians, we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior King, Jesus, and eagerly anticipate His second coming. It begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25th, and ends Christmas day.

Our culture does not to wait. We have an infinite number of conveniences at our disposal to make sure instant gratification is always at our fingertips.

For the believer in Christ, all of life is waiting for the final day of redemption when our faith will become sight.

Contrary to what our culture says, waiting is a discipline that ought not be wasted, and God will use seasons of waiting to refine us in beautiful ways.

My husband and I are very familiar with waiting. In 2011 we entered a foster adoption process and waited three years for our first son, a bubbly 2.

5 year old boy, to join our family (all the preparation in the world couldn’t have prepared us for the four-hour notice we had before he arrived at our doorstep).

The waiting was excruciating at times, and it often felt God had forgotten about us and we would never receive the blessing of children.

This past September, God grew our family again and brought us another precious child from foster care, a baby boy who had been born 9 weeks premature. The wait we endured to bring him home from the NICU was hard on my heart, but worth every second.

Image by my mother at Ground to Grow on Photography

You don’t need to look far to see that our world is broken and in desperate need of redemption. Our adoption process, and our boys’ stories, are perfect examples of that. Our hearts and souls long for more than the most perfectly lit Christmas tree or the best Black Friday deal can ever provide.

Advent reminds us that no moment of waiting is meaningless. Our adoption journey gives us a minuscule glimpse of the greatest wait, the final redemption of our souls, by the Savior who first came to earth as a tiny baby. We rejoice in that truth first and foremost this Advent season!

How We Prepare our Hearts

One of my favorite parts of the season is the time I am able to spend preparing my heart for the coming King. On the first day of Advent my husband and I always open the book Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, by Nancy Guthrie. The short daily readings become a daily part of my time with the Lord throughout the month of December.

Now that we have two little ones in our home, we to tailor their Advent reading to focus on the coming King as well. Last year we used The Jesus Storybook Bible, and this reading plan, for our son. Having a plan for kiddos, even a very simple one, allows for their hearts to be pointed toward Jesus in an extra special way as they wait for Christmas morning.

Another favorite book of mine is Treasuring God in our Traditions by Noel Piper, and we plan to read Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift for the first time this year. We also plan to use a DIY advent calendar this year to add Scripture readings as a family each day.

If you don’t have time to make one, you can always find one. One of Erin’s family’s favorites is the Star from Afar with the scripture cards. 

Christmas Morning

Last year we had the privilege of experiencing our first Christmas morning with a toddler. It was heart-meltingly adorable to watch him come downstairs and see the tree, gifts underneath, for the first time! However, before we let our son tear into his packages, he has a very special job to complete!

During the Advent season I allow our son to play with an unbreakable nativity set. We talk about the Christmas story together, and he learns about each person who was there the night Christ was born.

As we anticipate his arrival, I intentionally leave Jesus the set.

On Christmas morning, our son gets to do the honors of placing Jesus in the manger, signifying his birth and the reason we are celebrating that day.

We love keeping our Christmas traditions simple, within our budget (we save for it all year to avoid any debt), and most of all, focused on Christ. Cutting down our Christmas tree every year, exchanging new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and drinking eggnog from the local farm (some of our other family traditions) means nothing without Jesus.

I pray your family will have grateful hearts this Christmas, focused on the one who gave it all so we could have life!

Unless otherwise noted, all images by April Swiger

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Preparing Our Hearts and Minds for Advent

Prepare Our Hearts In This Time Of Advent

November 25, 2016

This Sunday the Church begins her new liturgical year with the season of Advent. In the hustle and bustle of the secular Christmas season, it is an often-overlooked season.

It is a time when the Church calls us as our Mother to enter into the silence and hope of waiting. Many of us live in cultures of instant gratification, so Advent is rich in spiritual truths.

Christmas trees, elves, lights, and holiday decorations seem to show up in stores earlier and earlier. The day after Halloween gave way to Christmas. Here in the U.S.

, the cultural preparations for Christmas in previous years typically start the day after Thanksgiving, but now Thanksgiving seems to be absorbed into the frenzy of Christmas. It can be difficult during this busy time of year to enter into Advent, but a well observed Advent will deepen our joy at Christmas.

Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Homily at First Vespers of Advent, November 28, 2009

The season of Advent coincides with the darkest and busiest time of year. This is appropriate as it reminds us of the world after the Fall, which groaned in anticipation of the coming Savior.

We are blessed to live in the world in light of the Paschal Mystery, but the Church calls us to meditate upon the centuries of waiting for the coming of the Savior. The darkness of this time of year reminds us of the darkness of sin and death.

The People of God waited centuries to be redeemed and for the renewal of the world, often they fell into sin and temptation, further demonstrating the need for salvation.

We too are waiting. We are waiting for the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. As we wait we run the risk of giving into false idols and worldly goods even after our Baptism.

The very same temptations that faced God’s People throughout salvation history are temptations we battle through our Fallen nature.

The Paschal Mystery has renewed the earth and we are now propelling forward towards the end of time and the new Heaven and new earth, but for now we must battle sin and constantly turn to God for assistance.

Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also in waiting in alertness for the Second Coming of Our Lord. Advent is a time to look at ourselves and ask if we are truly prepared in heart and mind for the Incarnation. If Christ came again in glory today, would I be ready? Am I a saint?

The question is: Is the humanity of our time still waiting for a Savior? One has the feeling that many consider God as foreign to their own interests. Apparently, they do not need him.

They live as though he did not exist and, worse still, as though he were an “obstacle” to remove in order to fulfill themselves.

Even among believers—we are sure of it—some let themselves be attracted by enticing dreams and distracted by misleading doctrines that suggest deceptive shortcuts to happiness.

Yet, despite its contradictions, worries and tragedies, and perhaps precisely because of them, humanity today seeks a path of renewal, of salvation, it seeks a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Savior who renews the world and our life, the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer of man and of the whole of man.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, General Audience December 20, 2006

Now is a good time to make a plan for living Advent fully. Here are some helpful tips in preparing to live this Advent season and every Advent season in the future.

Plan to enter deeper into prayer.

Prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life. It can also be the hardest part of the spiritual life. Thankfully, the catechism reminds us that “prayer is a battle” (CCC 2725). This is a reminder that we are called to persevere, not be perfect in prayer. God will perfect us through our discipline and faithfulness.

The Holy Spirit will guide us to a deeper prayer life, but we must spend regular time in prayer throughout our day. The next few weeks will be full of parties, events, and requirements.

If we allow our calendar to control us, then our prayer life will suffer and we will not have the disposition necessary for a deep joy and charity when the Christmas season actually begins, which is at Christmas Eve Mass. St. Therese reminds us:

…prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

We must surge towards Heaven during this Advent season and allow God to take us deeper into the great mysteries of this season.

There are countless types of prayer we can use in our daily lives. St. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.” This may seem impossible, but in reality, it is the call for each one us.

We can offer adoration, thanksgiving, and petitions to God throughout the day.

We can also offer each task of our day to God as a sacrifice, which coincides with our call as the baptized to live the common priesthood mirrored after Christ’s divine office of Priest.

Some ways we can pray throughout the day is through a morning offering, Liturgy of the Hours, prayer with Scripture through Lectio Divina or the Ignatian Method, the Rosary, Divine Mercy, evening or night offerings, and daily Mass.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers an entire section—found in Part Four—on Christian prayer. The Church has vast resources on prayer, which we can use to prepare and live Advent. Perhaps make a concerted effort to beginning one of these types of prayer. Use Advent to offer your day to God when you get bed.

Prayer has to be established through habit, just virtuous living. Make a plan now for prayer time during Advent.

Dedicate time each day to silence.

This time of year is largely the antithesis of silence. We are bombarded with ads, commercials, and stores providing stimuli overload. If we stay too busy during Advent, we will not be prepared for Christmas.

In fact, by the time Christmas actually gets here we may be too overwhelmed and stressed out to enter deep into the gift of the Christ-child. We need silence to grow in the spiritual life. Now is the time to plan a period of silence each day throughout Advent.

Hopefully the habit will keep up long after Advent! It doesn’t need to be a full hour, although that is an excellent goal for the future. Put in ten minutes of silence each day and make a note of it now, so that it is already in the calendar to start next week.

Perhaps incorporate silence and darkness, which are two aspects of the Advent season. Spend time praying before an Advent wreath with the candles lit in the darkness.

Make a plan to enter deeper into the Scripture readings for the four Sundays of Advent.

Advent is a time we prepare for the coming of Christ and Christmas, but it is also a time to contemplate the Last Things, or eschatology. All of us will come before the judgment seat of Christ at the end of our lives.

The powerful imagery of Advent reminds us to re-focus our lives on holiness.

Do we consciously understand that the meaning of life is to become a saint? Have we relegated the idea of sainthood to a few lofty souls canonized by the Church? Do we truly understand that the call to holiness is for every single one of us? Are we prepared to meet Christ? Make a plan ahead of time to spend a few minutes meditating on the Scripture readings for the Sundays in Advent.  We must ask God to use His Word in order to deepen our understanding. We all need God to help us with continued conversion of heart and conformation to the Most Holy Trinity.

In order to fully prepare our hearts and minds for Advent, we need to have a plan in place. Far too many activities are vying for our attention during this time of year. If we do not willfully make an effort to schedule time of prayer and spiritual activities, then we run the risk of missing out on the spiritual fruits of both Advent and Christmas.

If we do not take time to enter into silence and prayer, we may miss the great mysteries we live in the Church this time of year and every single day. In our busyness, we can also forget that we are still waiting. We are waiting for the Second Coming. Are we ready for His return? Let us ask God to guide us more deeply into the beauty of Advent.

Have you prepared your heart and mind to enter into Advent?

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