I remember an Advent season 17 years ago. I was expecting our first child and we anticipated the birth in late January. It was a very busy season as I was then working for Prison Fellowship and had found their Project Angel Tree program. I was very inspired by this program and brought it to our church. I loved Chuck Colson’s books, especially The Body. It had given feet to my faith and a place for my passion. I think arch-conservative Chuck Colson would be astonished to know that his book inspired at least one reader to a faith that breathes social justice rather than moral correctness, but that is for another blog post.
I was very, very busy; spending all my free time at our church. I was organizing Project Angel Tree, I was involved with our youth group (Jr. High at the time) and I was working. Since this was the first year our church had done Angel Tree there was a lot of organizing and out right marketing to be done. We could have delivered the gifts to individual homes, but I wanted to have a party (because that’s how I roll). If I remember correctly, the jr. high kids helped me out with this party quite a bit. I don’t remember too much about the party other than that I loved doing it and that the Angel Tree Children were happy for an afternoon … so were the parents and grandparents. They all came in with varying degrees of wariness shrouding their faces, but left wreathed in smiles. We may not have shared the gospel in words that day, but we did it in deed.
As it turned out, I nearly worked myself to death that Advent season. I went for a pre-natal check up two days after Christmas and my blood pressure was sky high; I had all the symptoms of pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition for both mother and child. It was bed rest for the duration of my pregnancy (my due date was Jan 24) for me. I whined, I cried, I tried reason and logic … but the doctor would not budge. Bed rest. On my left side. This was apparently quite serious. And fortunately for me, LightGirl decided to make an early appearance on Jan. 1, so I only spent about 5 days on bed rest rather than 5 weeks.
My intervening Advent seasons have been no less busy, but slightly less health impairing. This season we have between Thanksgiving and Christmas and which has now seemed to stretch to Halloween, is filled with plans, and gifts, and parties; movies, sparklies, decorating, and food … not just any food, but special food traditions. All of it is good. But the pressure and the process can be overwhelming, as LightHusband expressed the other day, “I hate this time of year. It’s just one more responsibility in a life of unmet responsibilities.”
So I began to think about waiting. What is it that we do when we wait? Waiting involves changing what we do. It involves watching or paying attention; being alert to changes that would signal the arrival of that which we wait for. Waiting means being prepared for that arrival. We will have cleaned the house, tidied the bathroom, prepared a feast, and changed the linens in the guest room. Once those tasks are done, we put music on and we wait … ears tuned, eyes watching the road.
If we are waiting upon the birth of a child, we prepare the nursery. Gifts of vast quantity yet tiny proportion are given. Diapers abound. Depending upon the socio-economic status of the parent(s), there will be car seats and strollers, wipe warmers and night lights, toys and crib danglies to spare. We are raising baby einsteins as our culture reminds us. Mother will carefully put everything away each tiny thing in it’s own special place. As her womb grows more and more unwieldy and uncomfortable, she will slow down and become more alert to the changes in her body that signal the arrival of her baby. She waits.
And I wondered, how do we connect these pictures of peaceful waiting with the frenetic busy-ness that our holiday season has come to represent? The church is no different than the culture at large in this regard. There are special parties, ornament making gatherings to bring your unchurched friends to, extra worship services (and if you’re involved with putting those on – extra practices/development time) … in short, lots of busy-ness. And I haven’t even mentioned the singular craziness of Christmas cards one time in this post!
More and more I was seeing my Advent journey as a road to nowhere, the Advent Sunday mileposts nothwithstanding. Without having the time and space during the season to be calm, aware and alert to changes that signal the arrival of that baby Christ Child, I would plod ahead often distracted by all the shiny baubles, happy songs and pretty parties of a holiday season too busy for waiting. So I learned to build in time. I make Christmas gifts instead of purchasing them and that allows me time to meditate on the recipient, pray for them and love them as I make their gifts. I make food from scratch rather than from boxes and spend time finding recipes … not every day, but some days. Last, I limit the commitments I make to just the things I either absolutely must do, or the things I absolutely love to do. There is only one thing I absolutely must do (in support of LightHusband) the rest are things I love to do.
And I’ve given up on Christmas cards. They were too much for me.
I won’t say this has cured everything. But cutting out some of the distractions has helped my road to nowhere become a little bit more Bethlehem bound; it’s still very circuitous and mostly I don’t know where I’m going (because my donkey does not have a GPS! ). But this has helped my journey be more peaceful and me to be more gracious and kind in a season where nerves are usually stretched thin and fraying at the edges.
This is part of our December Synchroblog series – Advent – A Journey. Please follow some of the links below for some excellent reading on the subject!