IT IS DECEMBER and everywhere we go in the Orchard Road and Marina Centre area, we find the facades (and some interiors too) of shopping malls and hotels transformed by creative Christmas decorations, all trying to capture the "magic of Christmas".

As the days to Christmas become fewer, the shoping malls and the streets get more busy as shoppers are caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas commercialism.

We are supposed to commemorate the birth of Jesus our Saviour on Dec 25, but by then the spirit of peace, love and joy that is the true magic of Christmas may well be absent in our hearts, hearts (and feet) that are worn out with too much busyness. We may then be out of sync with the true Christmas spirit. Chances are, while we may have prepared well, externally, for Christmas (decorating the house, sending out greetings online or by post, exchanging gifts and cooking for the family), we may lack the spiritual preparation needed for the Lord's coming.

Fortunately, that scenario need not come to pass as we are still early in the season of Advent, and there is time for us to anticipate Christmas in the right way.

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While December marks the closing of a calendar year, it marks the beginning of a new church year. The Advent season lasts about four weeks and it is there to help us prepare ourselves for the grand feast of the Incarnation, our Lord's birth.

The word "Advent" (from the Latin adventus) means "coming" or "arrival" and through the liturgical readings, we prepare ourselves to commemorate not only the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem 2000 years ago but also his glorious Second Coming (Parousia) at the end of the world. The final return of Jesus is not an event to be feared but one that we look forward to - the fulfilment of salvation in Christ is after all the basis of our faith and hope.

But there is a third coming - his coming within us, into our hearts and lives, here and now. How do we prepare to experience the Incarnation within us? Can we experience this Incarnation amidst the external preparations for Christmas?

Perhaps the best model for us during the season of Advent is Our Lady. For nine months Mary waited as Jesus grew within her. The season of Advent also entails a waiting on our part - in hope, in openness and silence - for the growth of Christ within us.

Caryll Houselander (a British mystic and spiritual writer) likens the season of Advent to the season of the seed.

The seed of the world's life was hidden in Mary. For us, the seed, as Jesus says, is the Word of God sown in the human heart. Just as the seed in the darkness of the earth needs time to germinate, so too we should wait in patience for the Word of God to germinate in our lives, and in the lives of others. Advent is the season to be still and silent, to take time to read and reflect, to ponder his Word.

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In addition to Scripture, the Holy Spirit continues to grow the seed of Christ within us in many other ways: through persons, events, experiences, the media, etc.

We gradually realise that in everything lovely and pure, honourable and just that we allow to grow quietly within us, Christ also grows. We must create a space within us for the seed of Christ to grow. For those who can spare the time, a weekend retreat or a day of recollection would be ideal. Otherwise a quiet time provided for in one's daily routine would also be appropriate.

For Mary, the season of Advent was a season of humility, silence and growth, and patient waiting.

While we live in an age of instant cash, instant food, and instant communications, we can try during this season of Advent to slow down our pace. For example, if we need to wait (whether it be for someone, the MRT/bus, or in a queue, or for a reply), we can use that waiting time as an opportunity to experience Mary's patient waiting and liken the experience to the gradual unfolding of Christ in our lives.

Our belief in Christ's silent growth within us would then gradually lead us to relate everything in our life to this reality. Everything we do then becomes Christ acting within us - whether it is our daily work, visiting the sick, or cooking and doing the laundry for the family. We gradually allow Christ to live and serve through us.

While Christ was totally dependent on Mary during Advent, so too he now lays his trust in us by depending on us to carry him in our hearts to wherever he wants to go. Mary has been compared to a living tabernacle, bringing joy to Elizabeth. We too are asked to be bearers of the joy of Christ to the people we encounter. The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the coaming of Christ in our lives. Come Lord Jesus, come and may your light shine in our darkness.

Just as Mary brought Jesus to Elizabeth, we too are asked to be bearers of the joy of Christ to the people we encounter.

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