Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Do You Need Advent?


Dear Friends,

I loved Advent. My grandmother always gave me and my sister an Advent Calendar right after Thanksgiving day. I loved those cardboard calendars with the cutout for each day of December that lead up to the illustration of the Nativity on the 24th. I would look forward every day to the ritual of slowly and carefully opening another cardboard door to reveal what was printed inside. I savored every day’s illustration. The Advent Calendar heightened my anticipation for Christmas and drew me closer each day to the celebration of the birth of Christ. I resisted, of course, the temptation to “peek” at the hidden illustrations under the closed doors that would be opened in the days ahead. But as soon as my sacrilegious seven-year-old sister got her Advent Calendar, she would run into her room and tear open every door. This was back when I was a young, God-fearing lad who was practicing to be a pastor by baptizing my sister’s Barbie dolls in the “creek” that ran through our backyard. So when I discovered her Advent Calendar desecration, I loudly proclaimed to our parents that it was an act of blasphemous rebellion against the church and everything most sacred.

Last week, I used pretty much those same words while ranting to the blonde lady with whom I spend my Fridays. We had just come from visiting our favorite mission in San Juan Capistrano and were walking from the Mission Gift Store to the car. You don’t find “christian-cute” merchandise in a Catholic Book and Gift Store. They are filled with seriously religious items such as prayer cards, statues, jewelry, holy water bottles, crucifixes, icons, rosaries and essential books. We were looking for crosses to hang on my Christmas tree when we both noticed what was on the store’s overhead music system. Michael Jackson was singing, “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry.. You’d better not pout, I’m telling you why.. Santa Claus is coming to town.” And the next “Christmas” song was “Last Christmas” by WHAM! I won’t bother giving you the lyrics, but trust me – it’s most definitely not a “Christian” Christmas song. As I’m wrestling with the dichotomy of listening to the Jackson 5 and WHAM! in this very religious environment, the smiling salesclerk rang up my purchase and then cheerfully wished me, “Happy Holidays!” You’re kidding me!! A Catholic employee is wishing me a politically-correct “Happy Holidays!” in a Catholic-owned store on the sacred grounds of this 240 year old Catholic church? I may as well have been at Target. Thus the reason for the rant.

But it reminded me of why even we good church-goin’ Christians so desperately need Advent these days. Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent and comes at the perfect time to interrupt the political hostility that has seized our Nation. We need a timeout from the hysteria, but instead of a time of peace and joy, our Christmas ritual starts with an appropriately named Black Friday.. Credit card debt.. Jingle Bells and jangled nerves.. Dashing toward Christmas day in a one horse open sleigh.. Then finally, it’s Christmas! It’s show-time!! We did it! And yet in the Christmas rush, the manger is still empty. We got it all done, but we’ve left someOne behind.

That’s why we need Advent. Advent means “coming” and these are the days that we anticipate the coming of Christ. Advent is the spiritual speed-bump that slows us down in our race toward Christmas and allows us to savor the journey. When we are tempted to speed up into the Holly Jolly Christmas pace, Advent takes us into a contemplative place. During this happy holiday season, we can meet Santa at Wal-Mart, but Advent reminds us that we’ll meet God in the quiet sacred places.

On the Advent journey, we find our peace and joy not in what we buy, plan, decorate or cook, but in the expectancy of His coming. That’s why you may want to spend even more time in quiet prayer and contemplation. You may want to turn down the noise of your fast-paced life and spend time in silence with Him – just you and God – alone together. Read an Advent devotional or read Luke 1:5-2:20 and Matthew 1:18-24. Meditate on these scriptures by thinking about what they mean to you. Pray about them and then just rest in His presence. You may hear Him speak to your heart, you may be filled with His peace or you may just find yourself sitting there with God and enjoying His Presence. 

Resting in His peace will bring a joyful attitude. Then when others are stressed, anxious and angry in the weeks ahead, bring the joy of God into their lives. Practice graciousness, patience, and kindness with family members and frazzled store clerks alike. Be especially aware of friends and neighbors who struggle this time of year and be compassionate. Be Christ-like. Show them the love of Jesus this Christmas and do what you can to relieve their distress, suffering and loneliness. Let them see, through your love for them, the Child in the manger. Amen?

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The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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