Today as we lit the first purple candle on the Advent wreath, I realized that for the first time in many years, I am ready to start “getting ready.” So often, Advent takes me by surprise, coming as it does so close to the Thanksgiving holiday. The Advent season is my favorite time of the church year. The Scripture readings call to mind some of my favorite people: Mary and Joseph, of course, and also Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist, and Anna and Simeon.
The music of the season expresses simplicity and longing, inviting us to be still and to wonder. One such song is Carey Landry’s “Waiting in Stillness” (OCP, 2002). The word “Maranatha” can be translated as “The Lord is coming!” (You can find a YouTube video if you Google the title and composer.)
1. Waiting in silence, waiting in hope;
we are your people, we long for you, Lord.
God ever with us, Emmanuel,
Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha!
2. Waiting in silence, waiting in hope;
we are your people, we trust in your love.
O Sun of Justice, true Prince of Peace,
Come with your justice, Lord, Maranatha!
3. Waiting in silence, waiting in hope;
we are your people, Lord, we seek your truth.
Wisdom Incarnate, teach us your way;
Show us the path of life, Maranatha!
As I mentioned in previous postings, Advent is a threshold time for me. I pause to look back at the previous year, re-calculate (as a GPS does), and then move into a new year. I start a new journal today and renew commitments to let go, disencumber, and be more generous. Most of all, Advent is a time of stillness and of wonder. It’s not easy to be still when you are surrounded by so much frenzy. Oh yes, I can get caught up in the frenzy, too, when I am not paying attention. That’s why I like the Advent message that reminds me to “Stay alert!” A few years ago I received a note from one of my colleagues thanking me for helping him to see how the holidays can be enjoyed – without the mania and frenzy. It was a reminder to me of the importance of being calm and still throughout Advent.
In this time of preparation for Christmas, are there some traditions and practices that I ought to continue and some that I can let go?
An Advent Wreath. The Advent wreath is a good visual reminder of this season of stillness and light. I have been setting up a wreath in my home each year for as long as I can remember. This year, however, I could not find the wire frame in my Christmas boxes. After a few days of searching, I remembered that last year I let the candles burn so low that I had to throw away the candles, wreath, and frame! I looked unsuccessfully for a replacement last week. I decided that I will pray with my faith community as we light the candles on the wreath at church and forego the home wreath this year.
An Advent Calendar. I have a quilted Advent calendar that I hang from a curtain rod near my front door. Last year I filled the 25 pockets with wrapped squares of Dove chocolate. Each day I would take a square and leave a dollar bill. On Christmas Day, I gathered the $25 and gave it to a local food pantry. Good Advent practice, I thought. This year I set up the calendar in the same way. Before Advent even started, I had eaten all the chocolate with only three pockets holding dollar bills! Another practice I have to forego this year!
Gift-Giving. My sister has greatly simplified gift-giving in our family. For about ten years now, she has organized a “Secret Santa” gift exchange. Each of us gives a gift to one person, and receives one gift from a family member. We have to be a bit creative because sometimes our gift recipient lives at a distance. Another important lesson I learned from my sister is that a gift doesn’t have to be the perfect gift. It has to be simple, creative, and personal. There are other occasions for giving gifts throughout the year.
Gatherings of Family and Friends. As families change through weddings, children, relocation, loss of parents and siblings, etc., our celebrations need to be more flexible. Some years, we get to celebrate Christmas on December 25th; other years, sometime in the span between Thanksgiving and Valentine Day! In the past couple of years, we have let go of Christmas dinner in favor of a simpler and more enjoyable breakfast or brunch. I have learned, too, that celebrations with friends and co-workers are better when they are kept simple. I don’t have to impress anyone with my cooking and hosting skills, and I have learned to let others help.
Cards and Letters. The tradition of cards and letters is a more difficult one for me to let go. Friends and family always say that they look forward to my letters. I send an “annual Christmas letter” to wish blessings on those whom I love, to inquire about their wellbeing, to share reflections and photographs of the past year, and to assure people that I am well. All of these purposes are served by this blog that I started in July. I am hoping to reduce the number of cards sent my postal mail to those who are not able to access this blog.
This Advent I ask the God of Peace to help me to be still and to make space in my day for what is really important. This first week of Advent, I want to Wonder in Stillness.
W – Write a note to someone I haven’t talked to in a long time.
O – Offer money to those who ask, even if it’s while I’m stopped in traffic.
N – Notice – take note of – the people I meet today in the grocery story or shopping mall.
D – Do not quench the Spirit.
E – Empathize with others who are weary without allowing their weariness to drag me down.
R -Reflect on whether or not I am who I say I am and who I think I am – inside and out.
S – Stay calm and centered about holiday stressors, e.g., tree trimming, shopping.
T – Take the time to ponder and pray and look for a positive solution to one worry.
I – Invest less time on presents and more time being a gentle presence to another.
L – Light a candle on the Advent wreath to remind myself to walk in the light.
L – Listen to Jaime Cortez’ album, Adviento.
N – No matter what the day brings, be a peacemaker.
E – Engage in conversation today someone with whom I rarely talk.
S – Share groceries with the local food bank.
S – Smile when I don’t feel like it – at least once today.