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Practicing Advent Again

December 22, 2012

Tomorrow is the last Sunday of Advent.  In three short days is Christmas.  Our Jesse tree is mostly full of ornaments, the advent calendar has most of the doors open, I am done with stores, and unbelievably, for the first time since forever, I have most of our present wrapped before the Christmas Eve church service.

This Advent has seemed a bit off.  Maybe I feel like this every year and just don’t remember, but it was kinda hard to feel all “Christmas-y” this year.  I bought the kids’ presents, but had a bit of a hard time with it.  My children have so many toys, which is demonstrated on a daily basis as they get strewn all over the living room.  I had a hard time choosing what to buy the boys especially.  We stuck to our three toys for each child–one bigger Santa present and a couple of smaller things.  Even that is feeling like too much this year.  They also get new clothes and this year, they’re getting Bibles too–a full children’s version of the Bible (Deep Blue–I am so excited about this Bible!) for Madeleine and a storybook Bible for the boys to share.  And that’s it.  It still feels terribly extravagant.  I am a bit disillusioned by the toy giving thing.  I think this dis-ease is a good thing.  It’s a process, this God working in me thing, right?  I think Curtis and I will definitely talk about next year…maybe scaling down a bit more?

The interesting thing is the source of where my disturbance comes.  Yes, God is ultimately the source, but the challenge from God didn’t come from the Bible this time or one of my Christian books I’ve read.  I wasn’t compelled at church or on one of the many blogs, although all of those areas were telling me the same thing.  What ultimately disturbed me was Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Flight Behavior.  In making the protagonist an Appalachian woman who is scrimping and saving to get by, I was challenged with my own definitions of enough.  When I am surrounded by everyone who is just like me, who makes the same (or more) money than us, who has a similar financial value structure, it’s too easy to assume that what is enough is what everyone else has.  I forget that enough can be a whole lot less.    Once again, God spoke through the everyday, the secular, which was yet another reminder that when our eyes are on God, we can see God in everything–sacred or everyday, holy or secular.  The world is filled with many more holy moments when we realize that God comes to us in the everyday, where ever we are, just like Jesus was born in a dirty barn in the middle of an oppressive empire.

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Thus, I’ve gone through Advent a bit uncomfortable with society’s view of Christmas, the gifts, the extravagance.  I’ve done the things I do every year–sending cards, baking up a storm, shopping, attending kid’s various holiday parties at school (Chinese New Year’s party for the middlest–even though Chinese New Year isn’t until February, a visit from Santa for the littlest, and a book exchange for the oldest).  I joined our church choir to sing in Lessons and Carols again.  I watched the children’s Christmas musical at church.  I’ve done what I’m supposed to have done, but often without some of the joy when I started the tasks.

I finally got around to mailing my Christmas cards on Thursday (so if you’re on my Christmas card list, just know that they are coming, eventually).  A task I approached with dread turned out to be a meaningful, sacred moment.  I started out as usual, a bit overwhelmed at how many cards I was sending and wondering if next year, I should do less.  However, as my time sitting still passed, I found myself settling in, just a bit.  As I hand-addressed each envelope, I found myself thinking deeply about each person, turning the thought then to a prayer.  I spent the time addressing, stamping, and licking envelopes in prayer for each family.  All of a sudden, the mundane was transformed into the holy.  Once again, God showed up when I least expected it.

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That’s how it’s been this Advent.  I haven’t been “feeling it,” yet I continue to get blessed with sacred moments.  Last night, John and worked on the ornaments for the Jesse tree.  We’ve mostly been sticking with the readings, but I had a stack of ornaments hadn’t been made or hung yet.  John surprised me by being the one to sit by me and work on them.  He carefully colored in Zechariah and Elizabeth.  He thought about the background paper and deliberately chose the ribbon.  We worked together, quietly and slowly the whole time.  Working with John quietly and slowly on anything is a gift, and I managed to notice enough to cherish the moment.  Yesterday morning, Madeleine helped me bake cookies.  We worked together in the kitchen:  her sour mood transforming into a delightful one.  The first Wednesday night I went to choir rehearsal was a holy moment–to lift my voice in song, as a group.  A friend on facebook linked to piece from the Messiah and was compelled to get out my Messiah and listen to Part I, causing me to let go of some of my disgruntled mindset of the morning.  How can one be disgruntled when singing “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” or “He Shall Purify?”

I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of moments too, being self-absorbed and grumpy as I often am.  I am thankful though, for the moments I have stopped, to notice that God shows up in the every day.  If I can only set myself aside just long enough, to be present in the moment and to know that many times, I am walking on Holy Ground.  If only I notice, I may see that God is present.  Then Advent is more than just a feeling.  Then I can truly be ready for the arrival of Jesus.

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