Friday, December 7, 2012

'Tis the Season, Friends

I’ve been taking a blog sabbatical in order to focus on writing my book, an effort that has been only semi-successful on one hand but at least a step in the right direction. I decided to come out of my self-imposed semi-retirement because each year the holiday season leaves me with an abundance of inspiration for writing.

In 2010, I blogged about my favorite Christmas song and what it feels like when it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  Last year, I blogged about Xmas and the post office--a post that ended up getting the fifth most hits of any posts on my blog and still brings tears to my eyes when I think about its inspiration.

This past year, we accidentally became Lutherans.  Having grown up evangelical, my experience with the Lutheran denomination was limited.  In fact, the only Lutheran services I ever attended were when some of my extended family got married.  I immediately placed the Lutherans in the good category because they had alcohol at their receptions.  We enrolled Ben at the preschool at Gloria Dei, and after sending both boys to VBS this summer to get a feel for the atmosphere, we decided to try a Sunday morning service.  So, here we are--part of a Lutheran congregation, a group of people whose outlook on life is similar to ours and who has warmly embraced our family.

Our associate pastor, Molly, contacted me to write a piece for a congregational Advent devotional.  Clearly, I’m comfortable with writing, but growing up in the evangelical tradition did not provide me with knowledge about the high church tradition and ritual that comes into play during these important moments on the church calendar.  I attended an Episcopal school for eight years as a child, but my take away about Advent was limited to savoring a bite of chocolate each day when I opened a tiny door.  (Likewise, Lent was the time of year when I didn’t eat chocolate at all.)  I married a Presbyterian, so as an adult, I’ve learned a bit more, but I took this invitation to write a piece to dig a little deeper.

My search lead me to pieces from some of my favorite theologians.  Perhaps more helpful were the websites devoted to teaching children why we celebrate Advent, complete with coloring pages and wreath-building instructions.  In all my insomnia-driven internet-searching research, the words that kept popping up were simplicity, reflection, hope, and waiting.

In the end, I wrote too short devotional pieces, one about simplicity and one about hope.  I certainly enjoyed learning about all the symbolism and tradition, and after attending our church’s “Advent Adventure” party, I can say that our family has a very nice hand-made wreath in the middle of our dining room table now.

Advent, as defined by the church, is essentially the time of waiting for the Christ child’s entrance--it is celebrated the four weeks leading up to Christmas, a time when we light candles representing hope, love, joy, and peace.  

I was drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea that all of life is Advent--that all we do is in preparation for the tiny, and not so tiny, miracles.  I see these miracles all the time in my life and in the lives of my friends:

The miracle of learning to read for the child who struggles academically.

The miracle of finding a budget-friendly car after bumming rides for a few weeks.

The miracle of reconciling a broken relationship after months of not speaking.

The miracle of finding a job after a year of unemployment.

The miracle of carrying a baby to full-term after months of bed rest.

The miracle of a clean bill of health after rounds of chemotherapy.

And each of those miracles were preceded by a time of reflection, a time of waiting, a time of hope--what beauty there is in living in a space that appreciates the past, present, and future all in the same moment.  I am reminded again and again that I am part of a story with no beginning and no end, a story that existed long before me and will continue to be told when I am gone.

My friend, Marcy Priest, recorded a song "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" last year as part of her church's Christmas album, and it is quickly becoming a personal favorite.  It's an Advent story in song.  Tommy and Eddie over at The Skit Guys used Marcie's song in the background of one of their new videos, and it spoke to me about my place in this universe in relation to the Christ child's birth.  The miracles on my horizon are but a tiny speck in the miracle that is existence.

Frederick Buechner says this, “For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”  
This year, this season, I am savoring that moment.