Long before Thanksgiving, the stores were filled with Christmas decorations. It’s as if everything was stockpiled in anticipation for an all-out attack on the senses of the modern day shoppers.

The Christmas trees were trotted out; ornaments displayed. Those specially released children’s toys were on the shelves and sales, which we’re led to believe will only last a short time (sure), seduced buyers with promises of savings.

Did those who ventured into the Thanksgiving night shopping frenzy really “save,” given they might have given up priceless family time in exchange?

The week before Thanksgiving, I turned on the radio and – can you believe it? – Christmas carols were playing. Two days before Thanksgiving, I received my first Christmas card. I realize postal delivery may be slow, but really, five weeks before Christmas? I checked the date to make sure it wasn’t a 2012 Christmas card.

Most of this rush to Christmas is due to our consumer mentality. It’s all about profits and not prophets, and that’s exactly why Advent is so important.

The church, in her wisdom, calls on all believers to maintain a period of preparation, to slow down and understand why and for whom we are doing all of this. Often it is in the preparation that we come to understand the significance of the moment.

The greatest thinkers in Western Civilization have reflected on the importance of preparation. Striving for a goal brings the most productive results.

Every teacher will emphasize to his or her class the importance of preparation for an exam. Ask any professional lawyer, doctor or accountant when they took the state licensing exams whether or not they first participated in a bar, medical or accounting review.

Most coaches will tell their players that the game is won or lost on the practice field. Every artist will show you the dozens of sketches or models created before settling on the final work.

Talk to anyone who has had to prepare for an important event. A couple getting married will spend endless hours making sure everything is just right. All the little extra details can make them lose sight of the big picture. At times, the frustration can bring brides to tears until they are reminded that the day of commitment is bigger than the flowers, the dresses or the disc jockey.

Advent is a time that introduces us to the “reason for the season.” Advent in Latin, “adventus,” means arrival, coming or approach. It emphasizes that it hasn’t yet happened.

Liturgically, we are asked to approach the date of Christmas with a sense of openness and anticipation that reflects the same longing the prophets of the Old Testament voiced in their prayers for the Messiah.

This was the declaration of a promise that would be fulfilled. “Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. The Lord will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you” Is 30:19.

How do we prepare for Christmas? The church offers helpful suggestions.

  • First, we pray. Many will intensify their prayer life. Some will attend daily Mass. I have seen an increase of three and even four-fold in daily Mass during the Advent season.

There are special prayers of private devotion which many will offer to request special intentions. One such prayer is the St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer:

“Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! To hear my prayers and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of his Blessed Mother. Amen.”

Of course there is always the rosary which presents an opportunity to meditate on the mysteries.

  • Second, there is reconciliation. When we anticipate a visit from a friend into our home, we generally do a thorough house cleaning. We want to put our best on display. It should be that way with our interior life. Parishes will hold reconciliation services with examinations of consciences.

We forget the sacrament of reconciliation is grace giving. We need God’s grace to weather the difficulties we face in our attempts to be Christian in a secularized world.

  • Third, we are challenged to perform works of mercy. Christ comes into the world as an obedient response to the will of the Father. It is an act of unconditional love. He, the Son of God, became poor so that we could become rich.

Pope Francis has reminded us of our responsibility to share the blessings which we have been given with those who are in need. Our parishes and charitable organizations will sponsor food and clothing collections, and serve meals to the homeless. Our own Catholic Charities organizes a gift collection for needy families. Some will choose to remember the child by witnessing in prayer before an abortion clinic. Whatever work of mercy you choose to do, do it for Christ.

  • Fourth, use each of the Advent days to reflect on words in sacred Scripture. Many have discovered helpful and insightful the reflections in the Advent Magnificat or the Advent and Christmas booklet by Bishop Robert F. Morneau of Green Bay.

For those who are more advanced in your spiritual life, you might want to try our own Bishop Richard J. Sklba’s book “Fire Starters.”

It is a reflection on all the weekday readings throughout the year. As the subtitle of the work states: Igniting the Holy in the Weekday Homily.

If we deepen our spiritual awareness during Advent, not only will we be prepared for Christmas, but we will also respond to the Gospel warning: So too, you also must be prepared for an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. Mt 24:44.