No one really likes crowds, but they seem hard to avoid this time of year. Yet, to make a good Advent, we have to find some time away from the crowd.

Somewhere, there is a paradox here. It’s like Yogi Berra’s famous line: “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Maybe his advice is worth taking. If you don’t, you may never get into the true spirit of Advent.

St. John the Baptist — one of the paramount Advent figures — spent most of his ministry in the wilderness, a place far from the hustle and bustle of city life; he was the voice “crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord.”

Jesus himself, for 40 days and 40 nights before he began his public ministry, went into remote areas, and would return there many times.

Just when the Gospel is urging us to be still, to retreat from the noise and and to get rid of clutter, practically everyone and everything around us is piling it on: Eat more; buy more; drive more; get more. Instead of fleeing from the pattern of rushing, pushing and shoving, we are guilted into doing more.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, for one thing, it  seems almost calculated (is it deliberate?) to keep us from getting in touch with with ourselves and with the voice of God within our hearts — the invitation to a real Christmas that we cannot make, in which God actually comes to us.

Advent means “coming to.” God wants to come to us. To accept the invitation to get into the true spirit of Advent, which is one of reflection, waiting, listening and letting go, is always going to be countercultural. If you even attempt it, you may experience within you no small number of voices tempting you for not doing more when there is so much to be done.

In my own spiritual journey, I have always learned (usually the hard way) that the more demands seem to pile up, the more things are on my plate, the more I need to pray.

In fact, if there is one rule of spiritual life of which I am absolutely certain from personal experience, it is that when I am too busy to pray, I am not only too busy, but am living in the delusion that I can accomplish anything really without making the time to pray.

What invariably happens, however, is that by taking the 15 minutes here or there — or even the hour — all the business somehow gets put into perspective. What seems so important and indispensable finds a way — almost magically at times — to fall into a manageable place.

My energy level actually increases, along with the ability to deal with what might otherwise be stressful and overwhelming. It is only when we empty ourselves of our illusions of being in control and being the center of the universe around us that we begin to be able to relax in the peace of Christ’s kingship in our lives.

In the true spirit of Advent, this is also an excellent time to heed the call of the Lord to empty ourselves of anything that stands between us and Jesus, whether that is excessive worry, lack of trust in God’s fidelity, resentment for past grievances and other grudges, pride, undeserved feelings of entitlement, judging other people’s motives (which we really cannot know), self-righteousness or even old-fashioned greediness.

Jesus always asks his disciples to unburden themselves of their possessions. The real reason for giving generously of our time, talent and treasure is not so much that “the Church” needs it, but that we need to do this for our spiritual growth.

There is really no contradiction between the two because, as we have often heard, “We are the Church.” Jesus often reminds his disciples that, the more we let go and empty ourselves, the more room he has to come into our lives.

Jesus does not really take up a lot of space. In fact, his presence in us will make us even more aware of the riches of grace that he puts in us, so that we will not feel ourselves depleted but more like a cup overflowing.

The paradox of Christian life is that you have to give up to get. Surprisingly, the more generous we become, the richer we grow in happiness and peace.

This is Advent’s buried treasure. It is not found in the crowd.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)