Don’t forget the Advent

I trust you’ve all recovered from your turkey comas and are ready to begin another holiday season. So what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read that? Black Friday, shopping, holiday parties, family gatherings (maybe family fights), decorating, cooking, hustle hustle hustle, go go go!

Perhaps you are one of the few that has your heart in the right place and actually thinks about the coming of the savior during Christmas. The sad truth is that if we’re not careful, we will do very little thinking about the savior until maybe December 24. More and more it seems the Christmas we celebrate today has less and less to do with Jesus.

For believers in the past, Christmas was so sacred that they set aside the four whole weeks before just to prepare spiritually for it. Advent was a time specifically set aside to focus the heart. To make it ready to celebrate the coming of a savior. There is so much richness there that I wish I knew.

Preparing the heart takes discipline, time and stillness. The fact of the matter is that all that seems to have been replaced with a more mundane and frenzied practice. Who has time to prepare the heart when there are gifts to buy and cookies to bake? It’s amazing what we don’t have time for. In Mathew 9:18-22, Jesus was on his way to heal a dying girl when a very sick woman reached out and touched him as he made his way though the crowds. The God of the Universe on his way to conduct some pretty important business, a matter of life or death. He certainly would have been justified in ignoring the woman and continuing, after all she was already healed. But he stopped. He acknowledged the woman and spoke to her. If the God of the universe is not too busy or important for us, what could possibly be so important that we don’t have time for him? A reality I struggle with more than I’d like to admit.

Very well then, the point has been made. Now what? Do we jump headfirst into complete self denial and go on a four week fast? My guess is that would last about, oh, a day. Then what? What if there’s a more practical application here? No need to throw out the Christmas decorations and ban gift giving. In fact, so much of what we do today during the Christmas season like preparing our homes, gift giving, decorating have their roots in something far more sacred and meaningful that what they’ve become. Even these were ways of reminding the heart and soul of the coming of the savior! Did you know that the Christmas tree is credited to a monk named Boniface who used it as an evangelizing tool for pagans? Do you know why we give gifts at Christmas? Or how about why we sing carols?

If you don’t, now might be a good time to find out. Do a little digging. Pull out your portable devices and do some google search. Perhaps in doing so you will stumble upon a gold nugget, one that will bring new meaning and depth to your understanding of Christmas. One that will remind you of the coming of the savior. One that  you can share with your family and friends when you’re putting up that Christmas tree or singing Christmas songs. Great conversation starters.

That brings me to the nest point. One of the best ways to prepare our hearts is to gather with other believers. Being in the fellowship of believers brings new life to our faith. It’s easier to remember when we have someone to sing with, to stand alongside, to talk with. Yep, it’s a good time to come to church.

Ok, I’m going to say it. I know it’s an ugly word in many christian circles and it gets a bad rap but hear me out. Tradition. Let’s face it. You like traditions. New jammies on Christmas eve…driving around to see Christmas lights…cutting your own tree? Christmas time is full of wonderful traditions. Why not add in a few that remind us of who we celebrate. Try an advent calendar. We created our own and for every day there is a different activity meant to draw our hearts back to Jesus. Maybe you can read the nativity story in Luke. Do a little searching and you’ll find tons of wonderful ideas.

The danger or fear about traditions is that they can become a substitute for a real relationship with Jesus. They can become stale, repetitive and a crutch. This brings me toy next point. Prayer. Do weave prayer into all the  moments of your day? Or do you think of it as another item to check off on your christian to do list? I have fallen into that trap many times. But once I understood  what prayer is I  realized it is a beautiful thing.  You’re letting your heart be exposed and bare before the king of the universe and allowing yourself to be known by him. How intimate. How precious.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am by no means saying that I still don’t fall into christian duty mentality more often than I’d like to admit. But the most enriching  prayer experiences for me have been when prayer became an ongoing conversation with the Father, inviting Him into the every day details of my day. Asking for His forgiveness and direction when I’m having a parenting fail, thanking him for his provision when I’m doing the dishes, begging for an invisible cape when my kids have called my name for the 120th time in 2 minutes. You get the idea. The point is, I find that when I’m weaving prayer throughout day, everything becomes richer, deeper, holy in a way. So traditions can become meaningful and not stale. Fellowship becomes refreshing and appealing. Digging becomes exciting and enlightening.

Yes, the holidays are upon us. Some of you will probably shop till you drop. But don’t forget the advent, the coming of the Savior.  Purpose in your heart to be a little more intentional about preparing your heart for the real celebration. There are so many wonderful moments of intimacy with Jesus waiting to be experienced. Let’s not waste that.

By Denise Cruz