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4 exercises for the 4 Sundays of Advent

Somewhere between 1942 and 1945, my uncles made several visits home from the war front in France and Germany. Those times indelibly imprinted on my young memory; five long years of watching and waiting and hoping and praying – that our brothers and uncles, sons and friends would return safely.

    I was a young child during those years, but I have never forgotten what it was like when one of my uncles was able to come home on furlough. We’d get the news via a Western Union telegram and then a new kind of waiting and preparation began – the cleaning, meal preparation, the bedroom, the favorite things available (if they could be bought). Days before, an air of excitement permeated not only the house, but also the neighborhood. It seemed like “everyone” eagerly awaited his arrival. When the actual day arrived, everyone spent it – no matter where they worked or what they were doing – checking their watches or the clock almost moment by moment, re-examining train schedules and calling the station for any updates. An hour before the train was to arrive, we would gather at my grandmother’s house, hardly containing our excitement. I watched them all and saw how everyone was united in one great wave of happiness and eager expectation. Then someone, usually my father, would say, “It’s time.” Into cars we scrambled for the 10-minute ride to the station. My strongest memory is standing on the station platform listening for the train whistle. Everyone was quiet, watching and listening; every head was turned in the direction from which the train would come. As the train came into view, my dad would pick me up so I could see. With great noise and billows of smoke and steam, the train slowed, then stopped. My grandmother stood in the center of all of us; then the conductor opened the door, put down the stool and there he was – my Uncle Jim or my Uncle Max! Dad would lift me up high and eventually my uncle would spot me and grab me in a bear hug. I would think: He really is here! He really came home!
    What I’ve just described is what Advent should be for us spiritually. Don’t let this brief but spiritually packed season of grace get away from you. It is too precious, too full of God’s gifts, to miss.

Spiritual exercises

Here are some spiritual exercises to help your Advent be spiritually fruitful.

1st Sunday of Advent: See Psalm 25: “To you O Lord, I lift up my soul. Your ways, O Lord make known to me; teach me your paths.” Then, look at 1Thessalonians 3:12 “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
    Take this first week of Advent and ask yourself some questions in light of these Sunday readings.
• Do I seek to know and do the Lord’s will in my daily life? How can I grow in this area during Advent? Just choose one area to change or grow.
• Is there a relationship where love is weak or broken? What can I do to improve the situation? Ask the Lord to show you one thing you could do or change or refrain from doing
    To seek the Lord’s will through his word, to grow in love in one relationship is a very concrete way of watching and waiting for the Lord so that your heart is more ready for him this Christmas.

2nd Sunday of Advent: See Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11.
• Do you pray for those you love – regularly?
• Do you ask God through his Holy Spirit to help you love him more?
    Address these two areas in your life in this second week of Advent. As you do, God will generously respond to your desire to grow in love. You will find new strength, new desire to follow Him.

3rd Sunday of Advent: Read Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:10-18. I would call this third Sunday of Advent the “What should we do Sunday.” The crowds ask John the Baptist what they should do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, and he tells them “Be just in all your dealings, be merciful and generous to the poor.”
• Ask yourself – Am I? Is there any way I am failing in these areas? What can I do or change? Try to make your decision concrete in this week.
    Paul tells the Philippians: Joy and thanksgiving should characterize your dealings with others. The Lord is near. Be thankful!
• Does your “house” reflect those desires?
• What can you do or change to be more ready to receive him? Ask the Holy Spirit for strength and wisdom.

4th Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:39-45. Mary had just received a momentous, life-changing announcement. She could have used a little time for herself – almost any woman would feel that way – yet she traveled to the hill country to care for her older cousin, Elizabeth.
    We have almost a week – Christmas is not until Friday. Where do you need to forget yourself and meet the needs of another? I guarantee you, if you reach out, you will know Christ’s pleasure in you and, even better, he will find, as a result, more of a home in your heart. There is no joy in life greater than that.
    “Behold, O Lord I come to do your will.”
• Am I able to pray that prayer from the reading to the Hebrews 10:5-10? Am I able to make that prayer my own?
    It is the Holy Spirit who prepares the house of our hearts and minds. If we ask, he will do the work.
• Are you willing to make that surrender? God’s grace can work miracles if we assent. As someone once said to me, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He only comes where he has been invited.” My prayer is that you will invite him more fully into your life this Advent; if you do, Christmas will find you rejoicing in the home of your heart, in the presence of a Savior who loves to save.

    A very merry and blessed Christmas!

- Sister Ann Shields

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