I was ten years old when I broke my parents’ hearts.

It was Christmas day, and for weeks leading up to the holiday I begged my parents for the newest video game system. All of my friends were going to get it on Christmas morning and I didn’t want to be the only one left out. I lived in an area where many of my friends’ parents were very wealthy. Mine were not.

As I opened up my final gift of Christmas, so hopeful that I was unwrapping the gift I asked for, my excitement turned to total disappointment. It was a simple board game. I saw the same game in the store the previous week for a little less than $20. I stared in disbelief. I didn’t say thank you. I just excused myself to my room and laid on my bed, crying.

My parents came in a few minutes later to ask me what was wrong.

“You got me the wrong gift! That wasn’t what I wanted!” I cried.

I told my parents they should take all of my gifts back and trade them all in for the new game system. They told me that it was too expensive, and that if they took all my gifts back there would only be enough money just for the game system – no games, no extras, just the system.

“I don’t care. Just take them back. I just want the game system.”

I cannot imagine how hurt they must’ve felt. They worked for months to save up enough money just to get us gifts to unwrap, and I threw it all back in their faces. I couldn’t see the real gift that was in front of me. My parents loved me and worked hard for me. They saved money and made sacrifices just to give us something, even if it was small. All I could do was compare myself to my friends and other people. I missed the gift that was right in front of me the whole time.

Western culture participates in Advent, but it looks much different than the liturgical season. The secular advent is filled with Black Friday sales and credit card debt. Commercials and advertisements promote the newest item that we “need.” Sometimes, the newest item can start to seem like that thing that will complete us. That is how I felt about the game system. I thought if I just had that one thing, I wouldn’t want for anything else.

We know this isn’t true, though. We get that one thing, whatever it is – a new iPhone, computer, game system, clothing – and as soon as we get it we realize that it is getting old. We are going to need something else.

Our Church offers something different, something that came before this secular advent. The Church gives us a season to remember and to prepare our hearts. We remember the moment of the Incarnation – the time and place where God radically broke into our history and human existence and becomes one of us. We remember the incredible gift that this was, Jesus actually does fulfill our desires and our wants. He is a gift so great, but we often miss it. His birth gets obscured by the other wants and desires we have in life. The Church offers us Advent so that we can slow down, we can remember, we can focus our eyes on the gift that really matters – the gift of Christ.

We also prepare in Advent. Jesus is coming again, and Advent allows us to assess the state of our heart. Are we ready for that moment when Christ comes in glory? Or will we be distracted by other tasks or wants?

This guide is written to help you both remember and prepare. It is filled with reflections on the readings of each day. It allows you to dive into the Word of God every day, and then challenges you to live what you read. It is a season-long retreat, and it only takes a few minutes each day. This Advent Companion will help you engage in the season of Advent, perhaps in a way you never have before. If you are faithful to reading the scripture passages referenced and meditating on the reflections, by Christmas you will find your heart ready to receive the great gift of Christ, focused on Him rather than the many distractions that exist in the season.

This Advent can be more than consuming. It can be more than material things. It can be more than disappointment. It can be a season that changes your life. It can be the turning point in your faith. It can end with you standing at the manger, glorifying Christ and the gift that He is. It all begins with one step, and it means you turn the page and begin the journey now. Make this Advent a season of change. Christ will bring you there.

Editor’s Note: This blog is an excerpt from our annual Advent Companion, available here.

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @ChasingHumility.

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