Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent. We're giving it a go.

**be warned....I go off on lots of tangents and sidenotes in this post.....  I warned ya!

We're Advent newbies.

I've never celebrated the Advent season before. I didn't even really know what it was before.

 I knew that some denominations have a special service on Advent (which was some time before Christmas) and they brought home poinsettias.

I knew my faith community stayed away from it, not really sure why. Probably because, "We don't REALLY know Jesus was born on Christmas and besides, we celebrate Jesus every Sunday." (read with with just a LITTLE sarcasm in your voice, okay?)

 Last year I felt a strong calling in my heart to change the way our little family operated in December. Past Decembers had been filled with mad-dash shopping, parties, get-togethers, cookie-making, crafting, photosessions for the mama, and just BUSYNESS that left us strung-out and TIRED by the time Christmas came around. To be honest, I'd happily hibernate through the month of December because all of that craziness does nothing but drain me. And to top all of that off, my parents come for their bi-yearly visit the last two weeks of December, so all I really want to do is just do nothing but enjoy being with them.

 So, back to last year. We took a little bit of a down-shift and cleared off all of the things we could from our calendar. And that's hard in December. There are so many GOOD things to do....parties with friends, nativity scenes to visit, Christmas programs to attend, cookie parties to enjoy....but we went ahead and said no. We made a list of family things we wanted to do together--string cranberries, dance to Christmas music, make wassail, ect., and each night we spent some time together after dinner as a family. We purposefully slowed down and cleared time for ourselves. It went great and we enjoyed it tremendously.

 I knew I wanted to do something similar this year. As fall approached an end, I began to hear lots of buzz about Advent and started going lots of research onto its meaning and practice.  I called in a couple of my friends that are theologians.  Really.  They have advanced degrees in this stuff.  :)  And wow.  What we have missed all these years!  I've decided to take on the midset that Advent (and probably Lent, too) is a blessing God gave me at this point in my faith an adult.  Something fresh and completely unexperienced before.  I grew up in God's church, going to church from infancy.  I don't know anything other than that.  I don't have a crazy story of how God pulled me out of something horrible and transformed me.  I've had God all along.  And of course I have lots of instances where God has and is transforming my life, but sometimes when people are telling these amazing stories of how God's brought them out of something crazy, I feel a little.....boring.  So to have something to be able to connect with God and my Savior in a way that is novel to me--what a gift I feel like God has saved up for me all along!

I am also on a very exciting journey of teaching my kids to love and obey the Lord.  I am so passionate about education, and I'm having SO MUCH FUN looking for ways to help them connect to the concepts in God's word--concepts that are not concrete and very hard for little minds to understand.  The more I delve into liturgical elements--manmade traditions--like Lent and Advent and even much of the way the Catholic church structures its church year to remember the different aspects of faith--I appreciate them more and more for the way they invite little people to understand big things.

Back to Advent.  After all my readings and research and conversations I KNEW we couldn't go through another Advent season without participating.  Wow--an opportunity to have structured ways to remember Jesus and who he is and what he has done and is still doing.  That is what we are about!  We try really hard to be immersed in Bible study with the kids in an ongoing, year-round fashion, and I love fitting traditions such as Lent and Advent into these.  And I have an extra spark inside of me as we start Advent--I know this year, as newbies, it'll be a little shaky and we'll be learning by trial and error what works for our family, but next year we'll be able to be more directed.  Last year was our first year to practice Lent as a family and I already have so many ideas brewing around in my mind for the months leading up to Lent and the actual 40 days as well.

Sunday we attended worship with a different congregation than where we typically worship on Sundays.  The sermon title was "The Loudest Whisper" and the youth minister, Eric, was speaking.  His thesis was, "We live in a culture that teaches us: If you have the resources to 'go big' all of the time, why would you not?  This is not the way God operates."

He started with the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 where all of these "big" things happen and yet God is in the whisper.  He moved on to 2 Kings 5 and Naaman--"I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy." (v 11).  Eric's paraphrase of Naaman (I took really good notes because I loved the way he phrased his comments....) "Hey, you're of God--you can go BIG!  Why don't you?"
And then, of course, there's the whole Jesus his a stable in the boonies.  And what does Eric paraphrase God saying? "This, ya'll, is how I work."

He challenged me to find God in the whispers in my life....and to really retrain my eyes and my SCHEDULE not to be too full for those whispers to be heard.  Wow.....what I really needed to hear during my season of Advent.  To me this is really what I want this season to be about.  Hearing Him in the noisiest time of the year. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes about Advent:

 As we begin Advent, we light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world. It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope. Three “advents” or “comings” shape our desire. We want to be renewed in a sense that Jesus came to save us from our sin and death. We want to experience his coming to us now, in our everyday lives, to help us live our lives with meaning and purpose. And we want to prepare for his coming to meet us at the end of our lives on this earth.
-Praying Daily Through Advent

We must all ask ourselves if the practice of our faith revolves around our lives or whether our lives are revolving around the practice of our faith.  If we truly believe that there is a God who created us, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Savior of mankind, who truly was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a woman, and died on a cross for us, then ought not life revolve around the practice of our faith?
-Te Deum laudamus!

Advent is such a great time of the liturgical year. While the rest of the world is already celebrating Christmas in full force (from Halloween on!), Christians have an opportunity to purposefully slow down and prepare our hearts and homes for Christ's birth. Much like preparing/nesting for a new baby, Advent gives us the opportunity to reorganize, refocus, and clear out clutter (material and spiritual).  It's so hard to purposefully slow down and focus, especially since there's always so much to do at the end of the year/semester, but it is so worth it.
-Margaret Cronin, M.Th.

While writing this seasonal guide, I’ll confess that I had a niggling fear in the back of my
mind. I worry that already overtaxed mothers would read this and add a whole new list of
“musts” to their already crowded lives.  Please do not see this as another thing on your to do list.  It is not intended to be one more thing to stress you out. More important than any of the doing is the striving to create an atmosphere of peace, light, and anticipation.  If it seems overwhelming, or if the practice of keeping Advent is new to you, I would suggest just choosing one or two things to do each week or each day....centering yourself and understanding the “why” behind keeping Advent is essential if you are to pass the spirit of Advent on to your children.  I’d also like to encourage you not to let perfection be the enemy of the good.  Those expensive wooden Nativity figures are wonderful, but so, too, are little table puppets made from cardboard tubes and scraps of paper.  Most of all, have a gentle Advent. In these days of cold and darkness, strive towards warmth and light, and may it bring joy, hope, peace, and love to you and your family.
-Annette Frontz, from her Ebook Advent: Lighting the Way to Christmas