On the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new liturgical (church) year. For the next four weeks, we will be anticipating the blessings of Christmas and preparing our homes and hearts for the upcoming liturgical season of Christmastide. One of the Scripture readings on Sunday was taken from the prophet Isaiah:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. (Isaiah 2:4)
I used to wear a plowshare pin, a symbol of a sword bent into a plow, made from the metal of an airplane used in war, but in my many moves, it has gone missing. (The ones that I find now on the web are not the simple design I favor.) Wearing the pin reminded me of the need to pray for peace and to act with justice.
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 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. 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.
Q. In this time of preparation for Christmas, are there some traditions and practices that I want 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. I used to hike through the woods to gather lycopodia to make my own wreath, but now in Florida, I use artificial greens.
An Advent Calendar
I have a quilted Advent calendar that I used to hang from a curtain rod near my front door. I fill the 25 pockets with wrapped squares of Dove chocolate. Each day I take a square and leave a dollar bill. On Christmas Day, I gather the $25 and give it to a local food pantry. Good Advent practice, I thought. However, in some years, before Advent even started, I had eaten all the chocolate with only a few pockets holding dollar bills! Instead of foregoing the practice altogether, I brought to calendar to the classroom wing of my church and filled the pockets with chocolates that are easier for me to forego!
My sister has greatly simplified gift-giving in our family. For about ten years, she organized a “Secret Santa” gift exchange. Each of us gave a gift to one person, and received one gift from a family member. We had to be a bit creative because sometimes our gift recipient lived at a distance. Now that we have three grandchildren in the family, gift-giving is focused on them. 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 few years, we 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 usually send an “annual Christmas letter” to wish blessings on those whom I love, to inquire about their wellbeing, to share some reflections and photographs of the past year, and to assure people that I am well. This year, I let go of the letter and will send a folding postcard with five images of the year’s highlights.
One of the great themes of the Advent season is light. In December when daylight is so shortened, we become more aware of the dark corners of our lives and of the world around us. I noticed the shortened light in a dramatic way when I first visited Sweden in December more than 15 years ago. With so few hours of daylight, there are candles in every window – homes, office buildings, and retail shops. It is no surprise that my candelabra are from Sweden. For the past few years, I have added one new one. This year, I added the sixth, so all my windows have candelabra.
I have chosen a song for today that is based on Psalm 119:105. You will probably be singing the song as soon as you read verse 105!
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The song is the 1984 Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith composition, “Thy Word.” You can find a video performance by googling the title and composer.
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. (2)
(last time) You’re the light unto my path.
Think I’ve lost my way,
Still you’re there right beside me.
And nothing will I fear
As long as you are near.
Please be near me to the end.
I will not forget
Your love for me and yet
My heart forever is wandering.
Jesus be my guide,
And hold me to your side,
I will love you to the end.
Nothing will I fear as long as you are near.
Please be near me to the end.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Q. Advent is a season for fresh starts and second chances. At the end of an eventful year, how are you most in need of a new beginning?
Q. What if God’s coming is like that of someone deeply loved, for whom it is sheer joy to bake, clean, shop, and decorate?