And so it begins.
It is such a good idea, this whole Advent thing. It’s a wonderful season. It’s a season where we wait…patiently…for the coming of the Christ child. We surround ourselves with the wonderful stories that prepare the way for the King of Kings to come as that sweet little baby in the manger. We hear from prophets of old. We sing songs of preparation and anticipation. Just this past week, for the first Sunday of Advent, we shook the dust off of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates.” We rocked it.
And this all makes sense. It makes sense that, if we’re going to truly receive Christ when he comes, we need to make ourselves ready; to be in a spirit of receptiveness. We hear about how this birth has been foretold from of old. We hear about John the Baptist preparing the way. We talk about what it means to have the Kingdom of God break into the earth. We look forward to and hope for a God who “moves into the neighborhood.” And, by the looks of our “neighborhood,” our God can’t move in soon enough.
And so we carve out some time — a season, a whole month’s worth — for the anticipation of hope and peace and joy and love that comes with the Christ.
That’s a nice idea.
That’s a wonderful ideal.
It looks great on paper.
But that’s not the way it normally works.
Even as I was writing words of “waiting” to go into the bulletins and we prepared ourselves to focus on the coming of Christ, I could see that the ideal was showing itself to be idealistic. I shouldn’t be surprised. But I always am. Every year.
Personally, I was feeling the Christmas rush long before Thanksgiving. As pastor I had already mapped out our Christmas Eve schedule and solidified a night for a “Blue Christmas” worship and had met with some leaders of other churches to plan joint events during Advent. I had Sunday School material copied and family devotions ready to download. I was already looking forward to the pageant and the costumes and we ALL had been praying for snow to set the mood. Meeting dates were being arranged and rearranged and gifts had already started to arrive.
I still recall, fondly, being asked by a layperson which season “worse,” Christmas or Easter. My response was that Christmas was far worse in terms of activity because there were so many other secular activities related to the season and the start of a new year. Easter may be a “season” in the church but it’s really just a day (or week) in the secular world.
And, in our household all of the other school Christmas/Holiday festivities were being planned. Various Christmas gift exchanges were set up. The search for a Christmas tree began. And my wife and I were spending more time online looking for the “perfect” gifts and ornaments for the various people in our lives.
Soon (and very soon!) our experience wasn’t so much about waiting but more about an all-out, headfirst dive into Christmas. It’s not that I’m ready for Christmas. Lord no! There’s way too much stuff to do between now and then. But this reality really hit me last night as we got ready to do our evening Advent devotional—a ritual we’ve (more or less) done for many years.
In my head, this is how it should work: Every night of Advent we would gather around as a family, read from the Scriptures and then a devotional. We’d say our family prayers. We’d put one of the ornaments up on our little Advent calendar or do any other Advent calendar activities, and then we’d send the youngest off to bed.
Last night was our first night. And, if any indication, it’s indicative of how hard it is to keep up this simple, 15 minute practice in the rush of the Christmas season. First of all, we’re down one kid, who is off at college. Our older twin girls had a school play last night. We barely saw them during the day and they’d get home after the younger twins would be in bed. So, it was just mom, dad, and two second-graders. It was late. One was tired. One was cranky. It was a good devotional. But by the end of it, all four of us were cranky. It had been a full day and there’s not much let-up until December 26th.
Day one of the Advent devotional and it was already a challenge. It is so hard to find the time to wait patiently for coming of Christ.
Nevertheless, when that that little space is carved out, and the waiting happens, and the prayers are prayed, God finds space to enter in.
I pray for more space for God to enter into our Advent season.