When I was a little girl, Advent was my absolute favorite time of year. It is true that part of the excitement had to do with the promise of gifts under the tree – but my love for the season went far beyond a desire for presents. Looking back, it is clear that Advent's top-ranking status in my personal pantheon of holidays had everything to do with a sense of wonder.
For me, decorating the Christmas tree was the best part – twinkling white lights peering out between crisp branches, delicate ornaments nestled in each bough, shimmering icicles glistening from every bristly tip… I loved our tree so much that my mother often discovered me curled underneath it, reading a book illuminated by those little white lights.
Beyond the tree, there were also those other wondrous Advent rituals: lighting candles on the Advent wreath each Sunday, singing the hymns that taught me my faith more than any Sunday school class, decorating the church during the hanging of the greens. Each moment, each activity added a new degree of anticipation as we moved towards Christmas Day. Finally, that swelling expectation reached a crescendo on Christmas Eve night as we sang Silent Night and raised our candles in the darkness of the sanctuary – Jesus would soon be born and I knew we were lighting the way.
As an adult and as a minister, things are a little bit different. Advent is still my favorite time of year, but I sometimes catch myself dreading it. The little girl inside my heart struggles with the adult whose workload doubles (or triples) during the weeks leading toward Christmas, pleading with her to stop stressing out and enjoy the ride.
Why is it sometimes so difficult to enjoy the season the way I once did? Yes, some things simply change as we get older – but I think it really goes back to the issue of wonder. Now that I am the person helping to choose the hymns and orchestrate the services, now that I am the one assembling the tree, now that I am the one budgeting for gifts and dimming the lights for the candlelight worship, it is harder to experience unfettered expectation. Why? Because I already know what is coming.
And yet, there are moments when that childlike wonder seeps through the walls of my schedule – like tonight as I put up our Christmas tree. My husband had brought up the boxes while I put dinner in the oven, and as beef burgundy simmered I strung lights around the tree. With Nat King Cole singing in the background, for a moment I found myself transported back to my childhood. The lights sparkled as if set to the music, reminding me of a star over a manger – and I felt excitement ripple through my heart.
This all makes me wonder what we clergyfolk can do to keep that sense of wonder in the midst of the work and the details of Advent. These are some ideas I've come up with, and I hope that via comments, others will share their secrets for the season:
- Pay attention. No, really. Have eyes to see and ears to hear, especially when children are near. Take a moment every morning and every evening to step outside, breathe in deeply and experience the sights/sounds/smells of the day.
- Set aside some "me time" for contemplation. One possibility can be found via The Salt Project. This organization “is a not-for-profit project dedicated to reclaiming and sharing the beauty of Christian life through film, photography, music, poetry, and ideas. [They] aim to build a community of conversation and resource-sharing that, like salt itself, preserves and seasons the best and most beautiful of the Christian tradition."
- Write each day. If you are anything like me and need motivation or incentives in order to do this, consider using a website like www.750words.com (which will give you badges for your writing achievements and send you daily email reminders encouraging you to write). If you would like to write, but can never figure out what to write about, check out websites like www.reverb10.com (which will give you daily writing prompts to guide your reflection during the month of December). Above all else, use your writing as an opportunity to reflect on those moments of joy that slip through your firewall.
- Take your day off each week (if you have one). If you don't have a day off, set aside some time each week for rest, relaxation and reflection. We should all do this anyway, but it is even more important during this hectic holy season.
- Contemplate the Advent seasons of your childhood. Where was the mystery? Where was the joy? What did you look forward to the most? Make time on your day off to call family members or friends to reminisce about Christmas-past.
- Experience a new translation of the Bible. Hear the Christmas story again in an unfamiliar translation like the Common English Bible. Wander through daily reflections from the Advent Blog Tour including contributors from past Fidelia’s writer Carol Howard Merritt.
- Watch the people in your care. Which hymns make them smile or tear up with joy? When do they sing the loudest? During which moments in a worship service or Christmas party do they seem to tremble with anticipation? As you watch, allow yourself to be swept away by their joy!
May your Advent be filled with wonder, even as you attend to the details!
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