December 20, 2012

Oh, Traditions by Joanna Brady

I was blessed to grow up in a Catholic home and be surrounded by many traditions that you might have: having an Advent wreath, baking a birthday cake for Jesus, cutting down/putting up your artificial Christmas tree and hanging ornaments, reading the Polar Express on Christmas Eve, making Christmas cookies or candies for your neighbors and friends, going to Christmas Eve night Mass and maybe even being an angel or one of the three wisemen in the Christmas concert at your church. December 25th comes at the same time every year, Advent is always the four weeks prior to Christmas, and yet, I find myself surprised when Advent comes around so soon.

I currently serve as a FOCUS missionary (go here to learn more about the fantastic organization I get to be a part of) on a college campus in Indiana and for me that means Advent on campus is celebrated even earlier than the technical start to our liturgical year. For years, college students create friendships and a second family away from home, so it’s natural for them to want to celebrate such a special time of year with those close to them while at college.  So, with finals ending the middle of December, Christmas traditions begin before or right after Thanksgiving break; the students I work with anxiously decorate their dorm rooms, houses and/or apartments for Christmas, already counting the days until they get to go home for Christmas, studying for those things called finals, and searching for the perfect tacky Christmas sweater (Mom’s and Dad’s, I’m sorry to say that some of the sweaters from your closet found themselves into the hands of your children and are currently being worn at a tacky sweater party). And over the past three years as a FOCUS missionary, I’ve witnessed and been apart of these early celebrations, all the while trying to incorporate my family’s Advent traditions and blending in those of my roommates, teammates and the students. But in the midst of it all, I can get lost in Christmas and Advent traditions and lose sight of what I should really be doing and what I should really be sharing with the students I work with.
A few weeks ago, I was preparing for two of the weekly Bible studies I lead, and I came across an article that gave me a gut check: not only is Advent a preparation for Christ’s birth, but an intentional time of the preparation we should be making for Christ’s Second Coming. Woah.
This year I’m celebrating my 26th Advent, and it wasn’t until this year that I realized the deep connection between my four weeks of Advent preparation, and my daily preparations all year round to prepare my heart to be ready for when Jesus truly comes again. I usually have found myself asking: Where did the year go? How is it December already? Why does Advent always come upon me as a surprise? Perhaps I haven’t been able to realize this many years earlier because I’ve been caught up in traditions and not taken time to pray, open my heart and give Jesus room to move my heart to conversion.

After reading that article, I shared it with both of the weekly Bible studies and it was awesome. I asked them, “How are you preparing for Advent? Will you make time for reflection and prayer? How will these four weeks of Advent be a springboard for how you want to prepare for Jesus’ Second Coming?” We then made Advent resolutions which we shared aloud with the rest of Bible study and we were inspired to add a couple more to our own list after hearing others. Here’s a few that were shared: make a morning offering to God (before checking our phone or email), pray with a daily reflection/Advent book, do a daily examination of conscience at the end of the day, look for service opportunities, and read and pray over the Christmas story.

I always knew that Advent was more than the three purple candles and the one pink one (I was always excited when that one got lit at Mass as a child because I knew Christmas was just around the corner); I always knew that Jesus was the only reason why we celebrated Christmas; I always knew that it was truly amazing how my Savior came in the humble form of a baby because He loved me, but my response and preparation has been inadequate. If I truly prepared well for Advent every year, I don’t think I’d be so surprised when it came around year after year. I would hope I would use it as a time to build upon the resolutions I made the year before and actually then lived out throughout the year.
This Advent caused me to ask some deeper questions and find out what it is that I get so busy doing that I don’t adequately prepare for Jesus’ birth. And, if I’m not adequately preparing for four weeks during Advent, how well am I preparing my heart throughout the entire year for when Jesus comes again?

I pray that this Advent I have the courage to truly open my heart to all that Jesus wants to show me and the areas of my life He still wants to redeem. We’ve been told that we won’t know the day or hour that Jesus is coming, and I want to be ready when He does come. We don’t have to wait until the Church gives us a season to remind us to intentionally prepare. By God’s grace, we can make the decision every day to choose Him and make resolutions to prepare our hearts for Him. May we enter more deeply and intentionally into this season, and may all of the special traditions we hold close to our hearts only lead us closer to the heart of the One who has given us the most precious gift of all – His only Son.
Joanna Brady quit her swanky job in Chicago to serve as a FOCUS missionary, bringing the Truth of Christ to college campuses.  In her role she as leads small group Bible studies, disciples female student leaders, and holds events to evangelize and form the student body.  While a student herself, Joanna was discipled by Lisa from Gesterlingpalooza and even before that she knew my husband from TEC.  We became friends when she spoke at our parish and Travis and I decided to join her support team.  She is also beautiful, generous, and magnanimous and one of L's favorite people to have a tea party with..  Also, she claims to have the best apple cider recipe, which she shared on my recipe blog.

PS - Joanna didn't ask me to link to her support page, I just wanted to because I so believe in the work she does on a 100% fundraised salary.

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.


  1. What a great reminder, Joanna! Peace, friend!!

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