Advent offers a counterbalance to our frantic lives. It invites us to a darkening, quiet, reflective time. It asks us to ponder with Mary the order of a disordered world. With her we wonder why God picked that time and place to reach down and give birth to a new way of being? Can we birth that hope again, this season, in a world gone mad with consumption? Can we take one step away from the glitzy enticements of the season? If you are reading this, it is a certainty that you have already taken many steps away from the things of this world. Can we all go just a little deeper, no matter where we are in our advocacy? Can we? Somewhere deep inside us there is a voice that says “please”, please put aside the frenzy. Listen to the urging of that voice! Name one thing that will take you deeper into the season, and then go there.
We invite you to take a breath and feel the peace that the Prince of Peace wants each of us to have in honor of his coming. Six times you will be blessed with an advent reflection that we hope will take you deeper. Let us journey together to Bethlehem.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him. (Luke 1:17)
Advent: A Time for Preparation
Our pastor recently suggested “Joyous Advent” as a post-Thanksgiving greeting. Coupled with his suggestion was a reminder that our preparation and celebration leading up to Christmas day is equally important as our celebration of the day itself.
Ironically, the frenzy of the preparation often overshadows the event for which we prepare and causes us to lose sight of what it is all about. Sadly, this is often the case during what should be a joyous celebration of the Savior’s birth. Many of the activities of preparation on which we choose to spend our time and resources– though not necessarily bad in and of themselves– are also the things that not only drain our joy, energy and wallets but also place a greater strain on Creation: Think of the tons of wrapping paper produced for a single use most of which will likely end up in a landfill and the obligatory gifts – many of which will likely go unused if not returned. Or the annual harvesting of evergreen trees that have taken years to reach maturity only to be enjoyed for a few short weeks before being discarded. Then there’s the exhaust-emitting traffic and crowded malls that inspire moods that are anything but joyous.
I must admit that the pressure that our culture – and even our own families – put on us to engage in the frenzy is often difficult to resist. I love to lavish family and friends with special – and sometimes impractical - gifts but often have to be reminded that it really is “the thought that counts” not the amount of money spend or the miles driven (or the carbon emitted).
Though not a faith-based organization, The Center for the New American Dream has published a guide called “Simplify the Holidays” that provides many meaningful ways to have more fun with less stuff during this season (www.newdream.org). Those of us who revere this holy time of year as more than a secularized observation of consumerism have all the more reason to refocus our time and energy in ways that keep “Christ in Christmas.”
This year our family’s Advent preparation has paralleled our preparation for our move to Uganda next summer where we have been called to serve in ministry. Our impending move has helped clarify and inform how we spend our time and resources before we leave and especially our decisions regarding what we buy for Christmas. The adage “you can’t take it with you” takes on a different meaning when considering what presents we exchange this month are practical to ship to Africa next year. It is also a good concept to keep in mind on a regular basis when making choices about how to spend our time, energy and money.
I believe we honor the Creator and the spirit of the season more deeply by focusing less on the superficial and temporal trappings and instead lavishing those we love with the intangible fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (and yes) self control”(Gal. 5:22) when tempted to engage in the frenzy of the season.
Lord God, Help us to keep the season holy by avoiding the cultural excesses that can so easily consume us by focusing our minds and hearts on the gift of Jesus, in whose name we pray.
This week's reflection was written by Paul Homeyer, PEC SW Region Steering Committee Member Representative. Paul is an Elder at First Presbyterian Church of Houston. Professionally, he is an architect specializing in Historic Preservation and Adaptive Reuse and Sustainable Design.