Advent

A few weeks ago, my church had an Advent party. “That’s silly” I thought, “It’s just a Christmas party under another name.”  Just another old thing repackaged.  Soon after, I realized that the party was on December first, several weeks before Christmas but quite close to the start of Advent.  I had never really celebrated Advent officially – at least not that I could remember.  The party was the first of the many Christmas time gatherings I attended this year; it set the tone for me this Christmas.

Upon further reflection, I realized that intentionally starting a new season a certain way or with a specific mindset or focus is considerably rare for me.  In the past ten or fifteen years, three things have decided for me that the Christmas season will begin.  The first is school. I know you have experienced the feeling of final exams preventing the “official” start of the holiday break.  It’s like the semester holds you back from fully experiencing Christmas until you’re finished.  Second, I think many times the weather decides when Christmas would begin.  Granted, I’m from snowy Phoenix, Arizona but it still gets cold (68 degrees is cold right?) and cold means that Christmas is approaching.  Chilly weather makes you think of a white Christmas.  Finally, the media and retailers definitely let me know when the season of Christmas is approaching, sometimes as early as October.

There is nothing wrong with these markers, but depending on them can mean we stumble into the Christmas season. If we take a passive approach to the seasons of life, we open ourselves for others to choose for us what to value.  School begins to tell us that we cannot celebrate the coming of Christ until all our work is done. The weather says this week is definitely part of the Christmas season but the following week is still fall because it’s too hot.  Retailers and the media have decided for you that this year, Christmas is about what you want and not about worshiping a newborn King.

Taking hold of our time is extremely significant in the life of a disciple.  Actually taking the time and energy to choose to engage with the season regardless of how we feel, what is happening in our lives or what our peers are doing helps us to open up our lives to where God is active around us.

In Exodus, the Lord commands the Israelites to take a Sabbath.  Most of us grow up knowing the ten commandments and the command to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” is generally forgotten amidst the rest.  However, this idea was revolutionary to the recently-enslaved Israelites.  A command to rest had many implications to the work-abused people of God.  It moved their concept of time from an endless stretch of brick-making days to a rhythm of weekly rest mirroring the pattern of their Lord and rescuer who rested on the seventh day.  Hidden within the command to remember the Sabbath is to engage in the season of life you are in.  Currently, we find ourselves in the season of Advent.  What would it look like for you to engage with that season this week?

Remember the Advent party I attended? It got me thinking, what does it look like to engage in the Advent season?  I began to reflect and I invite you to do the same.  There is no right way to begin.  It is enough to begin to reflect on the theme of Christ coming to earth as a baby.  So take some time with Jesus today and explore that theme.

If you need some more direction, take a cue from the Anglican Church.  During the four weeks of Advent, Anglicans focus on several different themes in association with the coming of Christ.  The first week focuses on the second coming of Jesus.  The second week on John the Baptist’s call to repentance before the coming of the Lord.  The third is the theme of expectancy – John preparing the way for Jesus.  The final week looks at the birth of Christ, the incarnation.  Some of these themes might seem strange to engage with during Christmas time, but Christians for hundreds of years have been reflecting on Scripture surrounding these themes.  Join with them this year contemplating different aspects and realities of the birth of the baby Jesus.

If you don’t choose how to reflect this advent season, someone will choose for you; maybe the media, your childhood experiences, or your pastor.  These people or institutions might be helpful or harmful, but at the end of the day, we need to let God lead us through the seasons of our lives, and that requires our active engagement with those seasons.  Since we are in the season of Advent, I invite you to engage more deeply, in a way that is personally meaningful for you.  Maybe that means reading through the birth story multiple times.  Or it could mean looking at the liturgical readings for advent (follow the link below).  It could mean just taking the time to stop and reflect on the magnitude of the God of the Universe becoming an infant.  What you do isn’t as important as doing something to engage in this Advent season.  Blessings in your endeavors.

Recommended Reading:

Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross

http://www.bookofcommonprayer.net/lectionary.php

Vapour-Trails of Joy: My Wintry Education in Delight

I am not living in the expectation of death, I am living in the resurrection that is born of the preceding second. I am living in a kind of vapour-trail of joy.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,  Flight to Arras

Winter in Korea is bone-shakingly cold; on the weekends, I waddle out the door in multiple pairs of pants, sweaters, jackets, scarves, and, occasionally, a hat or two. Only my insatiable itch for bottomless mugs of drip coffee and American-style brunch leads me from safety towards the bus-stop. (Literally speaking, I’m led by my boyfriend. In order to not freeze, I wrap scarves across my face and over my eyes, so he has to hold my hand and keep me from wandering into traffic.)

By the time I grab a seat aboard the 9800 bus going toward Seoul, I’m a shivering, shuddering mess, and the fierce winds and -7 C temperatures have effectively shriveled my sensitivity to beauty and delight down to the size of a mustard seed.

Still, I believe this weekly ritual–my slavish devotion to eggs benedict and fluffy pancakes, distance be damned!–nourishes me spiritually as well. For the past few weeks, my world has been strictly limited: teaching and sweating over grad school applications. When the aforementioned boyfriend makes me mac-and-cheese, I don’t even do the dishes–just shove my nose further into whatever documents demand my attention.

But, oh, these magical weekend mornings . . . beginning with the long bus ride to Seoul, I finally have time to reacquaint myself with delight–a neglected book; smart-phone chess; shared headphones and jazzy tunes.

Ever since I read The Great Divorce, I’ve been fascinated by how our actions in this life prepare (or do not prepare) our tender, transparent feet to step on the real, diamond-strong grass of Heaven. Usually, I think of this almost entirely as a process of suffering and self-sacrifice, or stewardship of a rather painful variety.

For me, remembering that pain forges our being is easy; we feel shame so markedly, and those moments of anguish, whether for ourselves or others, embed themselves in our consciousness without effort.

But when we forget ourselves in delight, our souls also expand–perhaps only one breath, but still, a lesson in breathing the good, perfect air of heaven. God created minutia, but I need practice to appreciate it.

Yes, Christ breaks our bones to heal them, but I require more than just an education in suffering; when the scales finally fall from my eyes, I want to look about and nod, thinking, “I’ve seen this goodness before.”

The luminescence of suffering makes us Christ-like; the love of good and perfect things makes us like our Creator–the God grand enough for both mountains and minutia.