Why I love Advent and hope you do too

I know they’ve been playing Christmas music on the radio for days.  And I know Hobby Lobby has had Christmas decorations out since July.  But believe me when I tell you- it is not Christmas time yet.  No, seriously.  It’s not.

Today starts the season of Advent- one of my favorite liturgical seasons!  It’s the time leading up to Christmas where we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ-child.  It’s a season of reflection, prayer, and peace as we wait expectantly to celebrate God With Us.

Don’t get it confused with Christmas!  Advent and Christmas are linked but they are not the same thing. Christmas is the feast and the party!  Advent is the fast and the quiet time.  Christmas is bright lights!  Advent is the patient lighting of just one candle at a time and sitting in the darkness waiting for the full light to come.    Christmas is crazy!  Advent is calm.

In a world constantly in motion and at full blast, Advent is an invitation to a time of intentional stillness and quiet. 

I have this mental image of a pregnant, teenage Mary just sitting on the hillside of Nazareth.  I was fortunate enough to be able to visit that town this past March.  I picture her sitting under the pine trees, looking down at the town with her hand resting on her pregnant belly.  Still and peaceful as she waited for her son to be born.  I imagine life for Mary was not easy and that her pregnancy could easily have been one filled with worry and fear.  She was an unmarried, pregnant girl in a strict religious community.  She had plenty to fear.  But when I read her beautiful response to the news that she is to be the mother of the Messiah I see a young woman who has found peace in obeying and trusting God.

And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
~Luke 1: 46-55

Each week we light one candle on our Advent wreath.  Each candle represents a different idea- hope, joy, peace, and love.  These are things I want in my life this Advent.  And I know I won’t find them in a mall or a store.  I won’t find them if I’m so busy running around I don’t have time to be still and seek the blessings of the Father.

It’s so easy for us to become wrapped up in all the things that we “have” to do for Christmas.  There are presents to find, buy, and wrap.  There are parties and events to go to and host.  Every kid is in at least 3 different Christmas concerts.  Every church has a full calendar of Advent activities.  There’s a house to decorate and lights to put out.  Family pictures to take and Christmas cards to send out!  There are a million things to do and to get done.  And sometimes all the Christmas cheer can feel like it is just too much.  It becomes an endless list of chores instead.

Dear friends, the world has sold us a lie about the meaning and value of Christmas.  Don’t buy into it.  

This Advent I’m inviting you to lay some of that down with me.  Get out your calendar and write down all the things you plan on doing.  What events do you have going on?  What parties have you been invited to?  Sit down and honestly map out your December.  And then…just pick a few things.  Say no to things that don’t help you connect with the spirit of Advent.  If it doesn’t help you to reflect on the gift of Christ, just politely decline.  I don’t know what those things are for you.  For me, it’s mostly the shopping and decorating.  I don’t feel the need to buy huge gifts for everyone I’ve ever meet.  And I spent a grand total of 1 hour decorating my house for Christmas.  Is it simple?  Yep. Is it still charming and cozy?  Absolutely!  I don’t need 3 days and 20 boxes of decorations to put me in the holiday spirit.

Some things I’m saying yes to:  Christmas craft night with girlfriends, Coffeehouse Talent Show put on by our church’s youth choir, and a young adult ministries Christmas party.  I plan to make as many of my gifts as possible so I’m sure I’ll spend some hours working on those.  I’ve already turned down a couple of invitations that sounded like so much fun but would just be too much for me this year.  I’ve also told some people no, I can’t help with certain events.  I have to say that one is harder.  I feel sort of guilty for not helping but I really believe it is important to say no sometimes (although I always offer alternative names of people to ask).  Just because something is good doesn’t mean it has to make it on your calendar.  And just because you think people expect it from you doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.  Advent is not about meeting the world’s expectations.  It is about finding the hope, love, joy, and peace that come from God as we wait for Emmanuel.

The main thing I’m saying yes to this Advent is some white space on my calendar.  I’m going to take time to rest.  I have a special Advent devotion book that I’m going to read each day.  And I’m going to serve others as best I can.  I want to slow down enough to notice the people around me and offer them help in any way I can.  I want to be extravagantly generous in ways that matter- in small acts of kindness and acts of love and service to my brothers and sisters.

I love the quiet calm and watchful peace of this season.  I love the time of dark knowing that the time of light is coming.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as I think about the fact that God, creator of all things and author of all life, loved us so much that he came as a human being and lived with us and died for us to bring us back into the family.  I love Advent.  I hope you do too.

Some cool things to check out as you start your season of Advent:

Haley Stewart at Carrots for Michaelmas:  I love this blog and adore their book!  You can read my favorite blog post here and order their fantastic book on liturgical living here.

Simply Wait:  Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent– this is the devotional that I’m using this year.

101 Days of Christmas:  Don’t be fooled by the title.  This book is full of some great recipes and craft ideas for a fun and easy Advent.

Finding Peace

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Hello. My name is Becca and sometimes I awful. Seriously, sometimes I am just awful. Example: when I am very hungry, tired, or stressed I will be incredibly rude to anyone who gets in the way of me attempting to fix any of the aforementioned issues. “But, Becca,” I imagine you saying in your nicest, most compassionate voice, “Most people get like that when they are hungry, tired, or stressed.” Sure, sure. But the problem is I’m like that a lot in my head. I am super grateful that people don’t hear the 10 seconds after I hang up the phone with them most days. And I am even worse when I’m just thinking it. I’ve made many a person cry because of my sharp tongue and biting criticism. Honestly, most of the time I am at least thinking something critical. Which is awful.

And I do it more to myself than to anyone else. I am quick to tear my self down, frequently out loud, over the smallest infraction. Didn’t get up right when the alarm went off? Lazy. Forgot to text a student happy birthday? Selfish. Can’t figure out how much to tip the waitress? Stupid. Most days I can recount for you exactly each and every time I didn’t perform in the way that I think is right or acceptable. I am awful to myself.

And it has to stop.

During Advent our youth ministry takes a couple of Sunday nights and writes daily devotionals which we compile and give out to the congregation for them to study during Advent. It’s become a tradition and our gift to the rest of our church family to help us celebrate the season of Advent more fully. The students write them and then I go back and help them edit. And while they are all impressive and special in their own way there was one that caught my special attention this year.

The scripture was about when Mary went to see Elizabeth. I thought that the student would write about sharing your joy at Christmas but she didn’t. Instead she wrote about why it’s important for us not to judge other people and that we must care for one another because we don’t know what burdens and blessings other people are carrying with them.

Elizabeth could have thrown Mary out, called her names, refused to be kind to her. She could have seen Mary’s condition, a pregnant, unmarried teenager, and simply refused to look any further. Instead Elizabeth embraced Mary and got to share in the joy of knowing the Savior was soon to arrive.
It’s so easy to see only what’s on the outside or to see more and simply refuse to care. It’s so much simpler to judge others and cast them aside because then we don’t have to help them carry their burdens. We think if we ignore it then our lives will be easier, more peaceful. But so far that hasn’t been the case. I’ve pushed myself and only struggled more. I’ve pushed others and even pushed them away and still I don’t have peace. Pushing isn’t peaceful. Trying to be something or someone else isn’t peaceful.

But there is peace in loving others, in seeing their hardships and choosing mercy instead of judgement. There is peace in seeing people as part of one big family instead of seeing them as divided us vs. them or me vs. the world.

I’m tired of being awful.

I’m tired of feeling awful. I want to have peace. I want to share peace.

It is not always easy to love yourself and love your neighbor. But it’s what we are called to do by the Prince of Peace. And I think we’ve believed the lie that peace has to look a certain way. That somehow peace looks all calm and serene. That’s how I look when I’m bored-not necessarily peaceful. I think peace can look like a lot of different things. I think maybe peace is not an expression or a look but that it’s a state of contentment and trust. Stop expecting peace to look a certain way- there’s no peace to be found in trying to force something to be a certain way.

The way I’ve been looking for peace isn’t working for me. I’ve been trying to change people or change myself or change my situation for far too long. So I’m going to try something different. I’m going to take a deep breath and let go.
I’m going to cut myself some slack. Do the best I can at the things I am called to do and stop giving myself a hard time when it’s not what I thought it should or would be. And I’m going to assume that everyone else is doing the same, even when they aren’t, and choose to care about more than just what they do; I’ll try to see them for who they are- a child of God. I’m going to let go of my expectations for myself and everyone else and just do the best I can trusting that God is bigger than my shortcomings, doubts, and worries. I’m going to trust that if I care more about the person standing next to me than I do about myself that I will be able to love them and help them carry their burdens. I’m going to be content with right now and leave tomorrow up to the Big Boss. Because Christmas isn’t about us “making peace”. Peace is a gift that we get when we trust and let God come into our messy, sometimes awful lives. Maybe peace isn’t something we find at all. Maybe it’s simply something we accept. Not with a big shout that we’ve discovered it but with a soft sigh because we have shared in it.

I’ll confess that this one was hard for me to write. I’m not sure this is the answer. I’m not even sure this makes a whole lot of sense. I know all too well that I don’t know anything at all. But I know that I’ve never made myself more peaceful. So I’m going to trust that God promised to bring me peace and be content that He is as good as His word.

May your Advent season be one of peace.