This the growing edge of Advent: to take a time fraught with stress and damaging expectations, and instead use it for spiritual discipline and good work in the world. I’m going to write about my attempt to move through this season gracefully and hopefully; the effort to grow, rather than deplete my every ounce of energy; and the work of sharing good news and compassion, rather than just sharing Made-In-China stuff. Care to join me? Send in your stories, and I may share some.
Something must be horribly wrong here. It’s December. I’m a minister. And yet, on my calendar, there are broad expanses of open space. WHOLE DAYS with nothing written in the little boxes. Sure, I’ve got a few evening meetings. The usual weekly stuff, plus some special Christmas worshippy-and-programmy-things. And yes, there are some festive ‘extras’ thrown in, like my preschooler’s Christmas program, a Kindergarten holiday party (Lordinyourmercy), my husband’s birthday, and some get-togethers with friends. But for the most part– I’ve got nothing but time.
At some point, I learned that the horribly wrong thing was accepting that I had to be “so busy” in December. Like I’m getting a merit badge or something. Used to be, I could cram those little calendar boxes full of stuff and things and running and doing… and it seemed Jesus wouldn’t show up any better or faster. But I—by Christmas morning, I could be found lying in a heap under the tree, covered in powdered sugar and anxiety, too exhausted to move or enjoy my family.
We are kidding ourselves if we think that “Joy to the World” or “Silent Night” is the anthem of the season. No, our theme song is more like the “Eye of the Tiger” theme meets “Highway to Hell,” and the lyrics go something like “get all the stuff/do all the things/you can sleep when you’re dead/cause Santa Clause and Jesus are coming to town.”
Who taught us to sing that song? Who taught us to run that soul-depleting, wasteful race for a solid month of the year, lamenting the whole livelong time that there are never enough hours, there’s never enough money, and THIS TRAFFIC. FOR THE LOVE, what is with this traffic??
“We’ll never be ready,” we sing over and over again.
Who taught us that song?
It wasn’t Jesus. But I’d say it was that guy who met him in the wilderness, and tried to tell him that there wasn’t enough. That there would never be enough to go around, so he should just turn the rocks into a Wonder Bread sandwich.
Once I realized who was singing that song to me, I started saying no to some stuff. Shopping, for one thing. I got my kids’ gifts online yesterday, and I am done.
In anticipation of all the high holy and festive things that inevitably come with a full life and a growing family, I have stopped scheduling much of anything else on those December days. I try to model the same for my church folks by discouraging extra meetings; by finding what things can wait; and by toning down the frenetic energy that I otherwise rely on to propel me through busy seasons.
I can’t tell you how to do this for yourself, because I’m not the boss of you and I don’t know your life. I don’t know what brings you joy and what sucks the life out of you. I don’t know what kinds of ‘have to’ things are part of your every day, or what kinds of demands the holiday places on your family or job. BUT… I can tell you that it is ok to say no sometimes. And that it is ok to not spend every Saturday of December at the mall.
After worship on Sunday, one of my church folks stopped and asked me to pray for her neighbors. She was in tears telling me about the tragedy unfolding in the house next to hers. And you know what?—she does not even know these people. She’s heard fragments of story. She’s seen police cars and CPS workers and trucks come to haul belongings away. But she doesn’t know, really, the lives that have been shattered. And yet… Her compassion for them was evident. Her heart is broken for the strangers next door.
I’d like to be the kind of person who has a moment to spare and a tear to shed for my neighbor. That’s what Advent is for.
This morning, instead of rushing into my day, (fueled by caffeine and the Holy Spirit) I went to yoga. And instead of rushing off after class—answering to the litany of ‘that which must be seen to,’ which runs in my head on a loop—I stuck around to chat. And that’s where I met a hospice nurse. And a woman whose husband died this year. And I invited them to my church’s Service of Remembrance, for people who are grieving through the holidays. THAT’S what Advent is for.
Tomorrow I will go to the Title 1 Elementary school that my church has adopted, and have lunch with a child who maybe doesn’t have a lot of stability or support in her life. Because that’s what Advent is for.
When people say “Can you talk?” or “Can you come?” and “Do you have a minute?” the request will inevitably be followed by a very thoughtful, “I know you’re busy…” And I will say, “you know what? I’m really not. Come on over.”
Because that, folks, is what December is for. That’s what we’re waiting on. That is the birth, the life, the love, the in-breaking of God’s new being that we’ve been promised. And this time, I’m going to be ready.
Full disclosure/confession: I MIGHT just be “too busy” for the Kindergarten Christmas party. Because Lord, in your Mercy, I did Halloween… And Jesus cannot come quickly enough after that business. #ohcomeohcomeemmanuel