Here we are on the first Sunday of Advent. It is nearly New Year’s Day in the Church—the day we begin anew the liturgical year. A day for resolutions, though I suspect most of us are making to-do lists instead. Me, too. I have a December 20th goal. God willing, every important thing on the “do ahead” list will be finished that day. In our family, if it’s not finished before Dec. 21 — the day our Nicholas celebrates his birthday — it’s not going to be finished. That is the day the festivities begin.
How can I begin my Christmas celebration before the completion of Advent? How can I not? Fourteen years ago, I held that perfect baby after a perfect delivery and forevermore I knew that our celebration would begin early. We celebrate our very own Christmas miracle. Besides, have you ever tried to tell a little boy (or a big boy) to scale it down a little for his birthday because we’re still in “preparation mode?”
So, there is a huge push towards the third week of Advent, a week the Church has devoted to joy. We begin slowly in the first week, breathing deeply of peace and reminding ourselves that Christ is peace and not a grand hullabaloo of fa-la-las. Then there is the week that is traditionally dedicated to hope. On the third Sunday, the pink candle is lit. And I am grateful for the reminder of the pink candle, lest I lose sight of the fact that these anticipatory chores are supposed to be undertaken with a spirit of quiet joy. With the “to-dos” safely finished, the last week of Advent’s preparations are more likely to be interior. The frantic pace slows and we begin to look at the coming feast from the depths of our souls instead of from the frantic flashing of our digital organizing tool. At least that’s the goal.
Today is the day we begin to say the traditional St. Andrew Christmas preparatory prayer. Fifteen times a day, every day, from now until Christmas—and it becomes woven into our spirits. This prayer truly is my favorite Christmas preparation. When I first began the tradition, it was mine alone. I said it by myself, quietly, late at night. Then, we began to say it as a family. The year I was on bedrest, I got the bright idea to research where to get medals and pretty purple beads and I made everyone chaplets so that the counting would be more efficient. Some families, print little cards with the prayer on it and place them all over the house as reminders to say it; they don’t say 15 all at once. Fifteen is not a magic number; there’s no spell cast here. Instead, there is the gentle repetition of meditation, placing oneself squarely in the Gospel moment.
A beautiful, lyrical prayer, (sometimes prayed a bit hurriedly before succumbing to utter exhaustion at night) takes on a familiar, contemplative cadence as the weeks progress. We learn the prayer well and its message is begins to seep into our bones:
“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 the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God! To hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.”
This prayer and most novena prayers allow us to state our intentions, to beg for favors, to ask God to grant our desires. But I have noticed, as I have prayed the prayer, that in the time from the beginning of the devotion until the time near the completion, the focus shifts from the desire to the rest of the prayer. Over time, with repetition, my gaze is taken from what I want or think I need (however good and holy that might be) to who He is and how He lives in me.
This prayer is especially effective because it transports us from the frantic pace of merrymaking and busy planning ahead into one present moment with God. Just one. As we say the prayer, we are there, in that one holy hour and moment, hail and blessed, with Him and His beautiful, gentle mother. We are there marveling at the indescribable softness of the curve of a newborn cheek. We are there, beginning to understand what this baby means in our lives. And we are there, on bended knee, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible sacrifice that lies ahead for this humble, holy family.
And if we are there, we prepare our hearts for Him. We leave the busy “Martha” days of preparation and sit like Mary beside the holy crib. We hold a vigil familiar and precious to every mother as we watch and wonder at every stuttering, sighing, newborn breath. And the air is sweeter than we’ve ever known. Our hearts are filled with that quiet joy and our hands — once so busy with buying and baking and wrapping — are filled with Him.
Give this prayer a chance. And prepare for miracles. It will change you; I promise. Some years, the change is subtle and entirely interior and only God and I share the secret of what’s happened in my soul. Some years, it’s big and miraculous. One year, about five years ago or so, I told my friend Kristen that I was going to ask God to bless her family with another baby to adopt. And, I had my own petition, too: a good wife for Michael, my eldest son. Often in my household, this prayer gets said very late at night and somewhere in the fifteen sleepy repetitions things get all jumbled up. So, I frequently found myself praying a jumbled up “Please, God send Michael a good Kristen.”
And He did.
Three years ago, the weekend after Christmas, Michael married Kristin. This year, in what can only be a beautiful blessing of the Christmas novena, Kristin joins us for Advent. She has enthusiastically and graciously inspired me with vision for this endeavor. She has eagerly learned from Joy. And she’s going to bless you with her handiwork. Please download this beautiful print of the St. Andrew Christmas Prayer. Print a few and scatter them strategically to remind you to pray this prayer throughout your peaceful, hopeful, joyful Advent.
This essay is included in Comfort & Joy, and Advent and Christmas Ebook. Additionally, you will find a plethora of idea to enhance your family's celebration of the season. There are recipes, traditions, tutorials, a printable planner, beautiful printable pages like this one, and a daily devotional. Included in the bundle is a 45 minute podcast that will encourage you to fill your cup with grace before pouring into the people you love. Click here to purchase.