Every year, I rant and rave when the stores haul out the xmas stuff before they’ve cleared out the back to school aisle. I engage in some good-natured banter with friends who LOVE the October carols on the radio. (But it’s all good, Peter, cause at least we agree that bourbon is always in season). I wait, diligently, to hang so much as a branch of evergreen, until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And the ^*@# Elf on the Shelf knows not to show up at my house until at least Advent 1.
And yet, here I am in the first week of November talking about Christmas. Because I wrote the Advent resource for my denomination’s publishing house this year, and you know, they like it when the authors help sell the stuff. If you live in the Church world, you are, at this very moment, planning which child will play baby Jesus in the pageant. You are ordering pink and purple candles, organizing epic community outreach efforts, and connecting with families who might need some help with food and gifts. You are making ready the greens and rehearsing the choir cantata, and you are already tired just thinking about it. And, if I’m lucky, you are also ordering your prayer and study guides right about now. So, let me tell you about this one…
While Advent is a season of preparation, we somehow take that too literally. Our preparations are focused on getting, running and doing, rather than learning new ways of being. While I don’t advocate getting rid of all the parties and presents, Christians are called to navigate the season with some awareness of the many things that rob us of real spiritual growth and human connection.
When I had children, I started seeing Christmas, and the time leading up to it, differently. As a pastor, that is one of my busiest times of year; and yet, that is the same time of year that you really want to be with your family. Then I thought–If I feel this way, so do the rest of my church folks. Church people spend December not just shopping and running errands for our own families and friends… we come to church and do it all again! We plan community events and service projects, lead seasonal studies and prayer groups, and throw in a few extra worship services for good measure.
Of course, these are the very things that make church life such a joy. But a few years ago, I made a deal with myself, and with my congregation, that we would be intentional about how we spent our time, money, and energy during this season. We eliminated the regular, life-as-usual meetings and activities so that we’d have more time for the service, worship and community events that truly prepare us for the coming Christ. We talked intentionally about consumerism, secular expectations, and the inhospitable, territorial attitude that many Christians take towards the holiday season.
I continue to seek the balance; that fine line between doing and being, work and home, giving and receiving, waiting and celebration. Writing this book(ish thing) was a journey for me; a much-needed trip to the wilderness. If it seems, at times, to contradict itself, that is just reflective of the tension that comes from seeking the sacred in the midst of the profane; and vice versa. I want readers to come away refreshed, rather than battling the fatigue that we often feel after Christmas. It is my hope that the conversation nurtures individuals for growth and service, and empowers congregations to share the love of Jesus with their neighbors.
A few primary characters, in addition to the biblical cast: John Muir, Leonard Cohen, Winnie the Pooh, the *@#^ Elf on the Shelf, Wendell Berry, Cristina Rosetti, regular church folks, and my own kids. Order one, or a few (hundred) and let me know what you think. Happy almost-Advent!