The four week period before Christmas is supposed to be Advent, a time of waiting for the coming of Christ. But not just sit on your laurels waiting. (The story of the foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25 comes to mind) Rather, it's meant to be active waiting. Preparing for the coming of the Lord. Christ not only comes as the child in a manger. He can also come into our hearts in a special, intimate way at Christmas – if we let him. So we need to be ready for him. Penance is a beautiful way to do that.
Penance may seem out of place during Advent. In fact, as a child I wondered why the priest wore purple during Advent – the same color as Lent! This seemed odd to me, since Lent was a time of sacrifice and Advent meant Christmas, a season of joy. But penance actually is quite the fitting spiritual exercise as preparation for the coming of the Lord. By denying ourselves some pleasures of this world, we acknowledge that there are more important things than human pleasures and turn our gaze instead to heaven. Remember, Christ himself performed penance in preparation for his mission when he fasted in the desert.
This is one of many ways to celebrate a beautiful Advent. For more ideas, download this PDF.