Every year during Advent, the Johnson clan leads a church-wide food drive.  We ask our church community to draw a family from our sister parish in downtown Houston and pray for them, give them boxes of food, and maybe get them a present or two.  Then two Uhauls get filled up with boxes and we take them to the families in Houston.  Seeing families without the material things I have is such a humbling experience for me. When the parents and children walk into this gym with all the boxes, their faces light up like mine used to when I ran down the stairs and saw the Christmas tree surrounded by presents. This kind of experience gives me perspective and shows how I really don’t need that much for Christmas.  One of the best Christmases I’ve ever celebrated was a few years ago when there were no presents under the tree.

That year our family wasn’t able to gather on Christmas day, so we decided to push back the gifts until later on. When I woke up on that Christmas Day, I was still filled with such great joy, even though I knew there weren’t going to be presents under the tree. All I needed was to see that little baby Jesus in the manger, and that’s exactly what happened. Jesus was born on that day many many years ago, and for the entire day I reflected on the meaning of Christ’s birth, and I did so without any distractions.

Prepare this Advent to receive Christ as though He were coming for the first time.

This is exactly what Advent is for. Advent is for warming our hearts and preparing for the Savior of the world to dwell in it. Our heart is his manger, and we are to prepare for the coming of Jesus. As Mother Teresa said, “At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”

Preparing anything takes time. As we just found out from Thanksgiving, turkey takes a LONG time to prepare. Imagine how long it takes to prepare a heart for a King. What are some practical ways to prepare for Christmas? Some practical tips for this Advent season:
Get into a spirit of giving. Whether it’s giving more (or some) money at church, sending more than a card to a family member, or just giving more attention to your family, make an effort to give more than you are used to.

Make an advent wreath. Lighting this at the table every dinner while saying the prayer before meals and remembering that the light represents the light of Christ will help you keep in perspective the real reason for this season.

Pray. Find a regular time to pray, whether at night, morning, or whatever works for you.  Pray a rosary a day, or even just a decade a day.  A decade a day (1 mystery of the rosary) will give you time to ponder all the mysteries of the rosary over time.

Take time to read Scripture.  Don’t just READ scripture, but pray it.  Reflect on what it means to you, right now, and how you can use the message in your life.  Read the Gospel that will be read on Christmas day (Luke 2:1-20) and reflect on that every day if you want to.

Go to Confession. Like I said earlier, Jesus is coming into our hearts, so why not make it the cleanest heart he’s ever seen? Let’s take this Advent season to truly clean out our hearts of all darkness.  This season is a great time to go to Confession with penance services offered all the time throughout the season.

Prepare this Advent to receive Christ as though He were coming for the first time. Make this Christmas a celebration of the birth of Our Savior and the great gift of faith we have received. By striving to live in the presence of Christ during Advent, we will receive the best present of all — Our Savior.