I enjoy the Christmas season and its holiday fare with the best of them. I like the bright lights, heart-warming carols, delicious cookies, thoughtful gifts and good cheer. As the popular Christmas song trumpets, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Yet, as much as I enjoy Christmas, I still believe that it is important to appreciate the time which precedes it, the season of Advent. Advent is more than a mere prelude. It is a unique liturgical event which has its own integrity, meaning and spirit. It is important that we respect this. I believe that honoring the four weeks of waiting and preparation for the coming of the Lord can bring a very special blessing.

One of the key spiritual elements of the season of Advent is a sense of expectation. It is a special time of longing. After all, we recall the yearning of our ancestors in the faith for the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and their longing for liberation from the oppression of sin and injustice. With them, we listen to the words of the great prophets who speak of the time when the bright hope of the Lord will dispel the darkness of despair. An opportune way to mark the season of Advent and to capture this sense of expectation is to devote time to identifying a personal longing within our own heart. Try to name at least one area of your life which yearns for the grace of the Lord. This yearning might be a desire for the reconciliation of a relationship, the healing of a broken place in yourself or the desire for a fresh outlook on the future. Dedicate some time to identifying this deep longing and expressing this to the Lord in prayer. Let this be a source of your expectation and the place where you long for the presence of Christ to be born anew.

A second key spiritual element of the season of Advent is a sense of stillness. In contrast to the bombast and merry-making of the Christmas season, Advent is a quiet time. This stillness is related to the quietude of the Chosen People straining in the silence to hear the Word of God announcing a coming Day of Salvation. Moreover, it reflects the serenity of the young Virgin Mary as she intently listens for the heartbeat of eternal life become flesh in her womb. Advent is a time for us to seek such quiet in our lives. It is a chance to enter into a silence which becomes meditative and thus holy. Our contemporary world is filled with racket. There is a cacophony of smart phones and other electronic devices cluttering our ears and our minds with noise. Dedicate some time to turning off all of the electronic gadgetry and befriending the silence. As the author of Psalm 46 promises us, it is within this very stillness that we will come to know God.

Last, a third key spiritual element of the season of Advent is a sense of waiting. While a famous holiday tune opines that “we need a little Christmas,” the fact of the matter is that Christmas comes to us in its own time. No amount of compulsion can hurry the arrival of the Lord’s presence or quicken its pace. In Advent, we unite with our Jewish brothers and sisters of ancient days who have waited generation after generation for the Promised One. May we use the time of Advent to learn the virtue of patience. May we strive to slow down our lives and let life come to us. In a world addicted to instant gratification and on-demand acquisition, it is good for us to wait and to learn anew who is truly in control of our life and our destiny.

And, so, by all means, let us stir up the Christmas spirit and look with eagerness and enthusiasm toward the 25th of December. Yet, let us not rush this journey too speedily. Let’s linger for a while in Advent and savor its special sense of expectation, stillness and waiting. I promise you that the effort that you invest in honoring the season of Advent ultimately will make your celebration of Christmas that much more meaningful and blessed.