I am nowhere near finished decorating for Christmas. My Christmas shopping has not even started and I know there’s baking to be done in my future but I seem to be thwarted by the lack of prepared unbaked pie shells.
Then there are friends of mine who have their house beautifully decorated by November 1, their presents are already purchased and placed beneath the tree, and their Pinterest boards are teeming with new ideas to keep them occupied in the long pre-Christmas wait.
There are few things that can fill us with as much panic as the feeling of “I’m not prepared!”. Realizing that there’s something we’ve missed, some information we don’t have, looking around the room and wondering if everyone else has a better idea of what’s going on than we do. It’s not a good feeling.
As I approach this Christmas season, our first in a new city, our first not in full-time ministry for 7 years, in a sense I feel unprepared. I’m not cramming my head full of songs for the Christmas Eve service. Not organizing practices, calling others, coordinating schedules. It puts the rhythm of my lead up to Christmas in a very different space.
Now I have a confession to make. I didn’t grow up knowing really anything about Advent. It was not practiced on a congregational scale at my home church. It wasn’t until I started dating my husband that I encountered the idea of celebrating Advent. And I didn’t know much about it. I was a newbie to the rituals of candle lighting, to the intentional focus on different aspects of the Christmas story, of the spiritual preparation leading up to the Christmas season. And I have been in churches since that participate in Advent but not in a liturgical way. It was acknowledge but not particularly the focus of the teaching during communal worship.
So I’ve made a decision. This year, with all the changes and the different structure to my time leading up to Christmas, I’m going to learn what I can about Advent and as a family we’re going to intentionally participate in a new way. I’m reading up on the different traditions (I’m a researcher, it’s how I roll) and getting a feel for what it looks like for us to participate in this set apart and consecrated time together as a family.
I’m preparing to prepare. This notion of preparing and consecrating yourself to a time when you will meet with God resonated with me in my daily reading today. I finished the book of Exodus (an interesting read and happy circumstance in this lead up to Christmas) and what struck me was how Aaron and his sons were preparing themselves to meet with God. Moses and their community facilitated their cleanliness, anointed them, and helped them prepare for this time when they dedicated themselves in service to God. The consecrated themselves and consecrated their surroundings. They prepared to meet with God, expecting great things, expecting the wonder of his presence.
What if I prepared for Advent? Not just in my mind, but in my heart as well? If Advent is a time where I focus on God and the sending of Jesus to Earth, I probably shouldn’t go in cold turkey. The Israelites didn’t. If I’m intentionally seeing Advent as a spiritual time where I hope to learn more about God and hear from him, there are ways I can set my mind and heart purposefully towards this time. I’m going to prepare to prepare. I’m going to practice some of the Spiritual Disciplines to focus my heart and mind (If you’d like to join me and others, click here). I’m going to ask others how they celebrate Advent and what rituals are meaningful to them and their families. And I’m going to participate in some differing liturgy to broaden my concept of worship during this time. It’s exciting. To step outside my set concept of what worship at this time of year means and see what new things God has to teach me about him, myself, and the world around me. I’ll let you know how it goes and please, if there are any special advent traditions you and your family participate in, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.