The Christmas season is the high point of the year for many people around the world. The preparation for Christmas, the decorating, the celebrations, the music and worship observances, the giving of gifts and gathering of families — all these rituals mark this important event in the life of our faith.
Often during this time of year, I find myself saying, “It can’t be December!” Or “It doesn’t feel like it’s time to get ready for Christmas.” My insides are not ready for this — the increased stress, the traffic jams, the crowds, the frantic feeling that I can’t get it all done, or that I’m going to forget something or someone important. The demands of the culture and of my own expectations overwhelm me at a time when I want to be more and more focused on God and the sacred events of Christmas.
I guess that’s why I really like Advent, the season of the church year preceding Christmas. Advent, liturgically-speaking, is the period including the four Sundays before Christmas during which we Christians prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits for the Advent, the birth of the Christ Child.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word advent as “a coming into being” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition). “A coming into being.” That’s what I’m in need of right now. I need this time of Advent to bring me into being. I need to be able to slow down, to live in the moment, to appreciate the small things — the warmth and light of a candle flame, the tiny fingers of a newborn baby, the quiet stillness of the dawn, the enthusiastic smiles of children. I need to prepare my heart, to make my spirit ready for the birth of the Messiah.
We all need this time of Advent to slow us down, to open our ears to God’s quiet voice, to guide us through the chaos of the consumerist culture that Christmas has become. As we make our way through this busy season, let us allow God to shape our minds and hearts — to become a part of God’s “coming into being” in Jesus’ birth.
TAKE TIME FOR GOD
If you are like me, the thought of adding space for spiritual reflection during the Advent season often seems overwhelming. Personally and culturally this time of year seems to race out of control toward a Christmas finish line. There are so many tasks that need to be done, so many expectations to meet, how could I possibly add one more thing to my life?
During this time of year the pace of life speeds up. We rush around trying to buy the perfect gifts, throw the best party, prepare a spotless home for holiday guests, and write the most excellent Christmas letter to be mailed in time to arrive before the Blessed Event. During this chaotic season, we are invited to take time to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of the Christ Child. That’s what Advent is all about — preparing our hearts and minds and spirits for God’s coming.
Take time? That’s a ridiculous suggestion! I hardly have time to do what needs to get done before the family comes to my house for Christmas! Time is the one thing I don’t have! And when I try meditation or prayer, I’m thinking and worrying about what I should be doing instead. The silence overflows with anxious thoughts. I figure it would be better to just go back to my to-do list, so at least something is being accomplished.
Take time for God: that’s exactly the challenge that God gives us during this season of preparation. In Advent, we are invited to take time out from our busyness to be with God. We make time for meditation, prayer, scripture study, or journaling. And in doing so, we nurture our spiritual self, that sometimes fragile part of us who longs for a connection with God.
I believe that even in our frantic culture, in our busy lives, and during this hectic season of the year, we can learn to spend time with God. Regular people like us, not just “spiritual superstars,” can accomplish setting aside a little time each day to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO GET READY:
Beth A. Richardson is the Director of Prayer and Worship Life at The Upper Room. She is the author of three Upper Room books: Child of the Light: Walking Through Advent and Christmas, The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas, and Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me: Celtic Blessings.
Source: From pp. 9-11 of Child of the Light: Walking Through Advent and Christmas by Beth A. Richardson. Copyright © 2005 by the author. Published by Upper Room Books. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
The United Methodist Church in Honduras uses El Aposento Elto, the Spanish language version of The Upper Room daily devotional to start new faith communities. They use "An Easy Plan to Use The Upper Room in Small Groups" found in the back of the magazine. As the groups grow, they build critical mass for new church starts.