With all of the many things upset and altered by the global pandemic this year, one thing that I'm happy to miss is the Christmas rush.

This year, it's a given that we will do most or all of our shopping online; we're supposed to stay out of stores as much as we can. We may have to place those online orders a little earlier this year than last, because of the extraordinary volume of mail the Postal Service and other package carriers are handling, but it needn't be a rush.

There's no exhausting — or exhilarating — round of parties to attend or plan for, no travel plans to make or guests to inspire frenzied cleaning, no need to buy and cook enormous quantities of food. Decorations are strictly optional, unless you have children, as no one but you will see them. Maureen and I have an Advent wreath already, and we'll get a  wreath for the mantel and a Christmas tree, but only we and the various delivery people who come to the house will see them.

So Advent can be more what it's meant to be — a time of slowing down, of reflection and preparation for the in-breaking of God into mortal hearts. We are invited, in the words of the carol, to "prepare him room." To let go of our everyday preoccupations with self and survival and allow our hearts to grow large with generosity and kindness, the spirit of a deity who would come to us as a baby, utterly vulnerable.

Imagine that baby, lying in straw, wrapped against the cold. His skin is not milky white, but dusky, perhaps the color of desert sand or mud-brick houses; his eyes are not blue, but brown, his head topped with dark curls. His parents, also, are olive- or dark-skinned. For them, there is no shame in how they look; it is how nearly everyone around them looks. Only an occasional light-skinned Roman stands out, exotic.

The baby is fortunate: he has shelter, the warmth of the animals standing nearby, his parents leaning over the straw where he lies. His mother will feed him milk from her own body. How many others in his time and place lack even these bare essentials? How many in our time?

This child, God among us, calls us back to trust, to innocence, to gratitude and to the generosity that is the true outpouring of gratitude. May you, whatever form your spirituality takes, hear that call and let it in. Let it open your eyes to the beauty and the need around you; let it open your heart to the grief of humanity; let it open your hands in acts of kindness and love which are the healing of the world.

I wish you a blessed Advent, not as I will keep it, but however this time of preparation can bring you to a place of being ready to receive the unbounded love of Spirit.

May you find plenty of room.

Sarah E. Reynolds is editor of The Republican Journal.