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Advent helps make Christmas more about people than things

family around table on Christmas

Roman Samborskyi | Shutterstock

Cecilia Pigg - published on 11/28/23

The story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke has inspired me to focus on what is most important during this holiday season.

Imagine the following situation drawn out in a comic strip. In the first panel, you see me hurrying to wash dishes with one hand as I stir the pots on the stove with the other. The next series of panels show me reading recipes, loading the dishwasher, and then typing in my shipping and billing information on Etsy to buy Christmas presents.

In the background of each picture you see my children hanging on my legs, throwing fits, and then sitting in front of a TV screen. One panel shows me texting “Sadly, I won’t make it today” to a friend’s invitation to come over and visit this afternoon. Every panel features a crucifix and Advent wreath centrally located on my kitchen island.

In the comic strip’s next-to-last panel, you see my face close-up, with a light bulb lit up over my head. Then in the final image, you see me gather my kids around me to read a story, after sending a text that says, “I’d love to visit, see you soon” to my friend.

My lightbulb moment

What was the lightbulb moment in my life two weeks ago? I realized that I want to have a “Mary” Advent this year, not a “Martha” one. I want to spend my holiday season more focused on people than on the decorations, food, presents, etc. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening and engaging with Him. Martha did necessary, hospitable things, but she made those things more important than the person visiting her home. And according to Jesus, she was missing out.

What are the necessary, practical things this Advent that I need to do to prepare for Christmas?

Yes, special food, buying and wrapping presents, and decorating are all good and helpful pursuits to celebrating Christmas. But they need to be kept in their place and not overtake my attention from my family, guests, or especially my time for prayer!

There are three antidotes I will lean on when the rush of Christmas shopping, extended Cyber Monday sales, and the itch to keep up with the Joneses come galloping in.


The first is to remember that Advent is a penitential season. The purple candles are beautiful but they mean penance. Sacrifice. Detachment. What do I need to detach from and who do I need to attach to this Advent?


The second antidote for me will be reflecting on Mary and Martha’s story in the gospel. At the beginning of every day in Advent I want to remember Jesus’ words: “There is need of only one thing.” Then, at the end of the day, I want to reflect on what parts of my day lived up to those words, and what parts of my day did not. Did I rush through my prayer time to get to my to-do list? Did I recognize moments to engage with my kids, husband, or the acquaintance I ran into? Or did I avoid those moments in pursuit of some kind of Christmas prep or household chore that could have waited?


The third antidote for me will be recalling the saints and their joy when they embrace poverty and simplicity to follow Jesus. I’m thinking about Mother Teresa, as she chose to sleep in the hottest bedroom of the house, the one directly above the kitchen, while serving the poorest of the poor on the streets of Kolkata.

I’m thinking about St. Philip Neri, who ate nice foods when guests were over, but lived on bread and water the rest of the time in order to stay focused on Jesus and his mission to love and serve his congregation with joy. Maybe giving up extra sweets or my third cup of tea for the duration of the season before

Christmas will help me remember who I am following and why. Choosing to be joyful instead of choosing a quick sugar or cozy beverage fix might just be the ticket to better focus.

Sts. Martha and Mary, please help us find the right balance between preparation and people this Advent season.

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