I've become absolutely certain that the devil hates Advent.
When you think about the whole meaning and purpose behind this sacred season, it only makes sense. The evil one will want to do absolutely everything he can to make us forget it's here or, if we do remember, to only do so in passing or to sabotage it from the very beginning. After all, what is the whole point of Advent?
Advent is taken from the Latin word "coming" and it refers to Jesus' coming at Christmas 2,000 some years ago as well as His coming again at the end of time (the parousia). This season is meant to prepare us both for our own deaths and the final coming of Christ at the end of time as well as the coming into our hearts here and now in a renewed way during Christmas. Who hates His coming more than the evil one himself? All three of those advents are connected but if you look at the readings for the first three weeks of Advent this year, they are primarily about preparing not for our immediate celebration of Christmas but for our readiness for our own end and the end times. It's not until the very fourth week of Advent this year that we begin to hear the Christmas narratives! Until then, the readings are not very warm and fuzzy but incredibly sobering and a reality check to what our ultimate focus in life needs to be. The Church is reminding us to be prepared for Him, to ready our hearts and souls for Him to come.
If this is the case, that Advent is all about preparing for Him to come at the end of our lives, the end of time, and into our own hearts in a renewed and personal way, then oh, how the devil must HATE that! Right? The very last thing he wants is for our hearts to be ready. The very last thing he wants is for us to be diligently, expectantly, and joyfully preparing our hearts and homes for Him. If we're not ready, like the lady left grinding at the mill, he wins. He would absolutely love for us to skip right over Advent, I think, convincing us that there's no preparation needed and that Jesus doesn't really care about all that stuff anyway. For some, the whispers in our ear convince us that we're already fine just the way we are. You're alllll good, why wait? Skip to the party already! For some, the whispers convince us that we've already failed before it's even started and there's no use in even trying. You're all messed up, why try? Skip to the despair already.
The answer, as always, lies in diving deep into the gifts given us by Christ Himself through the Church, relying not on our own understanding or that of our culture, but on the wisdom and beauty of centuries of tradition. This tradition might not be as immediately gratifying but it always, always brings a deeper grounding in real joy and peace. In them, we can become rooted in the truth of who we are and who He calls us to be, allowing that truth to guide us to Him during Advent and hopefully always.
So, how do we give a good punch? Here's a few thoughts...
Don't give up before it's even started.
For some of us the expectations in our heads or the comparisons we make or the little mistake in planning is enough to tempt us to throw it all out and give up before we've even started. He'd love for you to believe that you've already failed before it's even begun! But we've got a full four weeks (and it really is a full four weeks this year!) for the Lord to work on us and to be available to Him. It's a journey and a preparation. If we were all already perfect, we wouldn't need Advent at all.
Remember the battle.
It would be foolish to forget that we have an enemy. Both Scripture and Tradition are abundantly clear that we do. Don't forget that his primary tactic is lulling us into ignoring him or even writing him off. He's very very good at it.
Don't buy his lie that it must be (your) perfect to be good.
Let go of the unreasonable or counterproductive expectations for what a perfect Advent should look like for you. If crafts aren't going to make your family holy, don't do crafts. If you wanted to get through three spiritual reading books and the Saint Andrew Novena and the Jesse Tree and Advent Friends and (fill in the blank) and it can't reasonably happen? It's okay. Do what you can well, prioritizing the important and worthwhile stuff, and leave out the rest.
Let Him plan your Advent.
Spend time in quiet and prayer asking God what HE wants from you this Advent. Where do you and your family need to prepare? What gifts does He have in store for you this year?
Live in the liturgy.
The liturgy of the Church has Advent as a time of prayer and preparation. It is a joyful, but still penitential season. It is anticipatory and hopeful but simultaneously quiet and reverent. The readings from Mass, the Eucharist, the Divine Office, and the liturgical celebrations sink in and effect change in our souls like nothing else. His Word has power even when it doesn't feel like it. Trust in that, prioritize that, and let go of the need to feel a certain way. Our obedience begets humility and there's nothing the devil hates more in a soul than true humility.
Get to Confession (and make it a good one).
This is always great but especially because Advent is penitential and preparatory, it's especially appropriate. Parishes will often have extra Reconciliation services or confessional times available to help ready our souls.
Live your Advent.
Not hers, not his. Get ideas and suggestions and consider what will be truly helpful for you but remember that He has hopes for you that are not what He wants from them. And vice versa.
Accept that where you are is where God wants you to be.
I don't mean that He doesn't want you to prepare or grow or change this year - there's always room for that in each one of us and it's the whole point. But trust that your personal life situation is where He has you and it is ultimately for your sanctification and will help you in this time of preparation. If you have a house full of little ones, He wants you there, growing holy THERE. If you are struggling in marriage or your job, He wants you growing holy THERE. If you're single or retired or facing difficult family or illness, He wants you growing holy THERE. Don't waste time dreaming about your preferred path to holiness. See the one that He's put right in front of you.
Let Mary fight for you.
She's far more powerful and her serpent-crushing heels and devil-punching fists are on point. The Rosary is one of the greatest weapons we have against the devil. Give your Advent to her.
Get up and don't give up.
Always remember that while we still have breath in our lungs, there is still time to begin again. Always. His mercy is limitless and He is continually making all things new - every day, even Advent. That's why He came and we bring Him glory when we allow Him to claim us yet again. If we feel like we've somehow screwed up, the biggest failure and the way the evil one wins is if we don't let the Lord pull us back up and out of that devilish pit to keep on going.
May your Advent be blessed and fruitful and everything that He wants for you - necessary face punching included.
"Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."