Advent gives us the space to stand back from the busyness before Christmas
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Indeed the Lord is near.” These are the words spoken at the beginning of Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent. Parents of the children preparing for First Communion probably do not need the reminder of these words or the lighting of the pink candle on our Advent Wreath to be very aware that Christmas is just around the corner. They are submerged in a world of excited anticipation and hopeful expectation of the arrival of the one for whom their children wait at this time of year. It may seem hard to compete with the red hat, bulging sack and reindeer of the bearded one and yet, it is not so difficult to lead children to understand the true meaning of this wonderful time of the year.
Advent gives us the space and offers us the tools to stand back from the busyness, the commercialism, the rushing around and the general craziness that so often accompanies these weeks before Christmas. It invites us to remember what we are really celebrating; the birth of a child, the coming of God among us. The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger puts it like this “Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope….It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.” (Seek That Which Is Above, 1986)
In a sense it is that creation of memories which are there to be reawakened year after year that is the gift of our faith and is what we are about this year as we prepare for the celebration of that most precious of sacraments, First Communion. In creating the Family Prayer Space, bringing the children to Mass, praying with them at home, presenting the gifts of bread and wine, bringing their candles to Mass and spending time helping them to read and complete the activities in THUMB or the Grapevine we are creating memories. This is particularly true as we journey through Advent, the lighting of the candles on the Advent Wreath, the colouring of pictures on the Advent Calendar, the telling of the stories of preparing for Jesus’ birth, the setting up of the crib are all helping us be more aware of Advent as a time when we get ready to welcome the Christ child. It is in doing these simple actions with our children that we create memories that will sustain them on their journey of faith, that will teach them to be more confident in articulating their faith and will enable them in turn to hand the Faith onto their own children in the future.
On the Third Sunday of Advent the pink candle will be lit on the advent wreath, the children will listen to the Gospel story where John the Baptist is imprisoned. The focus is on John and how he encouraged all the people he met to prepare for the coming of Jesus. The priest will use the picture on page 45 of THUMB during his homily. This is a picture of John’s family which the children have been asked to colour in before this Mass. At the end of Mass the children will be given a job to do for the days before Christmas. This activity is called ‘John’s Jobs’. The jobs are divided between two baskets. In one basket the jobs are tasks and in the other they are attitudes. The children are invited to take one from each basket and to engage with the activity over the coming days. The parents are encouraged to help their children carry out the jobs as they get ready to welcome Jesus at Christmas.
In the Grapevine that you will receive at Mass this Sunday you are reminded of the Irish tradition of placing a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve.
This candle is put there to guide Mary and Joseph on their way and is a lovely way to remind some very excited children on Christmas Eve that there is another aspect to our waiting on this holy night. There is also an activity in THUMB called the Twelve Days of Christmas that helps the children learn more about their faith in fun filled ways in the days following Christmas.
In all that we do during this Advent season as part of our preparation for Christmas and for First Comunion we are preparing the way of the Lord, preparing to welcome Jesus into our hearts and lives and for the children preparing to recieive Jesus, the Bread of Life. May you make the most of these Advent days and be truly ready to welcome the Christ Child at Christmas.
Maeve Mahon is the Primary RE Advisor for the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin.