“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other ... God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.
There is no such thing.” — Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
If there’s one thing we’ve become really good at in the 21st century, it’s certainly finding novel ways to replace God with cheap imitations. And there’s no other time of the year that showcases this as vividly as the so-called “holiday season.”
The shopping frenzies, Christmas music playing on every radio station as of mid-November, Christmas work parties, bake sales, houses decked out in Christmas lights—even us Catholics get so caught up in the culture’s “holiday spirit” that it often takes a while before we even realize we’ve been spending those weeks leading up to Christmas focusing on a lot of the wrong things. The secular holiday noise is just that deafening.
Resisting it all becomes even harder when we have kids.
It’s like kids get an intuitive and infinite supply of enthusiasm and energy the closer Christmas draws near—often in stark contrast to their parents—and whether you like to get into the Christmas spirit or not, your kids will make you get into it and you’ll be doing a lot of things you never imagined yourself doing.
And of course, most of these things aren't bad for us ... but they could be.
We ought to quiet ourselves—strip our lives and homes of the noises and distractions that we afford them the remainder of the year.
Christmas traditions and preparations are often joyful, memory-building times for our families, but behind them there sometimes lurks a kind of danger that few of us are willing to acknowledge. Even when all the cookies and cakes have been baked, when our house is sparkling clean, the presents are packed, and the Christmas tree is up, I still often feel somehow unprepared and caught off guard—as though Christmas snuck up on me overnight.
And the truth is, though from the outside I may have looked perfectly ready, on the inside—spiritually speaking that is—not much had been dusted, tidied, or organized.
So these were the kind of thoughts that had been on my mind when I began reading Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, earlier this month. And when I read the passage, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there,” I immediately thought of Advent.
The Church gives us this grace-filled time of preparation before Christmas but few of us know what to do with it because there really isn’t an official “how-to” guide like there is for Lent. What’s more, many priests are rather brief on what it is that we’re actually preparing for. To say that it’s to celebrate Christ’s coming isn’t wrong, but it’s also pretty vague.
(That said, I feel fortunate to know a few wonderful priests who preach beautifully about the graces to be found within Advent, and if you have the time, I encourage you to listen to THIS homily from Fr. Gregory Merkley, and check out his articles on our blog while you're at it!)
But St. John Paul II said, “The liturgy of Advent … helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ.”
And there it is!
So how do we prepare? How do we actively await Christ’s coming during those four weeks of Advent?
Through a kind of silence.
We ought to quiet ourselves—strip our lives and homes of the noises and distractions that we afford them the remainder of the year. Many Catholics intuitively resolve to fast and pray more during Advent (since it is a penitential season), much like they do in Lent; and they really are onto something because in order to quiet ourselves and our lives, we must step away—at least in part—from the whirlwind and excess of the “holiday season” that surrounds us.
And yes, it’s going to be difficult—especially with little ones in the house who will continue to nag you to put up the Christmas tree as soon as the snow falls—but it’s a worthy sacrifice that will help you empty out your life and home of all those cheap imitations and once again make room for God—the only true source of happiness and peace.
As for our kids, I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach them about offering things up and making small acts of sacrifice. Christmas is perhaps one of the easiest times of the year to teach our children that we sometimes need to delay the physical pleasantries of the season until our souls are prepared to fully enjoy them. And our kids can truly surprise us when it comes to understanding such big spiritual mysteries. Let’s not underestimate them! If we take the time to explain why the cookies have to wait, or why the Christmas tree is going to be bare for a couple weeks, and tell our kids how and why they can offer up delaying these things they love, they will understand—if not at first, then maybe a year or two from now—but all the same, we’ll have laid the foundation for something powerful, something that makes ordinary acts extraordinary and holy.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard for me to resist joining in the holiday spirit when that first snow falls and the Christmasy vibe is in the air, but there’s a purpose to the waiting.
So maybe this year you decide to put up some lights outside but not turn them on just yet.
Or maybe you’ll take your Christmas tree out but leave it bare for a couple weeks.
Or you’ll start your Christmas cooking and baking but choose not to don’t indulge in any of the treats.
Advent is short—just a few weeks. Choose to spend it preparing to receive the only kind of fuel that can ever sustain you.
Because there is no happiness apart from that found in God ...
There is no such thing.
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
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