Scripture can help us focus during busy holidays

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, December 11, 2016

Visitors take a close look at the baby Jesus figurine in the outdoor creche in Chicago's Daley Plaza. Setting up Nativity scenes can be a good way to prepare for Christmas. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

It’s beginning to look — and sound — a lot like Christmas. Scratch that. It started to look a lot like Christmas weeks ago. Many stores had Christmas displays up by Halloween, and even those who congratulate themselves on their restraint waited only until the day after Thanksgiving.

But Thanksgiving weekend isn’t the beginning of Christmas. Most years, it is the beginning of Advent, and the beginning of the church’s liturgical year. It’s a time not just for shopping and baking and decorating and more shopping and wrapping and parties and shopping — it’s a time for Catholics to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.

Father Brian Welter, vice-rector for formation at Mundelein Seminary, suggested that people take time during all that busyness simply to reflect on the meaning of what they’re doing.

“You don’t have to go to the mountaintop,” he said.

Shoppers can spend time thinking about the people they are shopping for, and why they are buying gifts for Christmas, he said.

They can also reflect on the gift of their loved ones’ presence in their lives, he suggested.

“As I’ve gotten older and my family has gotten older, Christmas is less about the gifts and more about having time to spend together,” he said.

The Scriptures read during Advent feature some of the best-known stories and characters in the Bible, from Mary’s assent to be the mother of Jesus to John the Baptist crying out in the desert, he said, and those stories can also help people focus on getting ready for the coming of Jesus, perhaps more than on the coming of Santa.

Brian Schmisek, director of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago, also suggested that people focus on Scripture.

“This is a great time for people to read the Christmas stories, either with family or with friends or loved ones,” Schmisek said. “You can read from the infancy narratives or about John the Baptist.”

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, he said. The stories of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, for example, or Joseph taking Mary and Jesus and fleeing to Egypt are only a couple of paragraphs, he said.

“If you read that before dinner, it can form something of a dinner conversation,” Schmisek said. “What do you think that means? What is it trying to say to us? That can be enough to engage a really deep conversation.”

Those stories can be some of the best for sharing with children, who can relate the Holy Family to their own family experiences, Schmisek said.

“From one generation to the next, we tell these stories,” he said. “These can be great moments of passing on the faith.”

Nativity scenes can work the same way, especially if families use sets whose figures are durable enough for little hands to play with them.

Some of the activities on the calendar include taking time to bless the Advent wreath and pray around the table before eating.

The Advent wreath, with its four candles counting up to Christmas, is perhaps the most traditional way families observe the season, Welter said, and it’s a way to remind people that Advent is a time of waiting, not celebration.

Schmisek said that simplicity should be a hallmark of the season.

“It gets so crazy,” said “I’ve heard people say you have to have this kind of Advent wreath or that kind. It was meant to be something that we shared at Advent.”

Catholics can avail themselves many resources for Advent, including a calendar of activities and prayers offered for families by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at


  • scripture
  • christmas

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