“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” – Matthew 24:44 (from our Gospel lesson this week)
Yesterday, I had the most wonderful opportunity to visit one of my best friends (someone I’ve known since preschool) and meet her 3-day-old baby boy. I’ve never given birth to a child, so I can readily admit that I’m not even close to an expert on the subject. However, I do have numerous children and babies in my life, and in watching their amazing parents: I can assuredly say that the time parents have as they wait for the birth of their baby does not come and pass without a lot of preparation and expectation.
From going to numerous doctor’s appointments – to purchasing clothing and other items for the child – to setting up and decorating the baby’s room – to reading all sorts of books on giving birth and parenting: all of the parents I know spent a lot of time preparing for the day when they would meet and welcome their baby for the first time and continue to care for their child for the many days and years to follow. And though sometimes this preparation time may seem a bit overwhelming and requires the soon-to-be-parents to take a few steps back from some of their daily activities that were once a part of their lives, many of these parents have expressed how thankful they were that they took the time to prepare.
This Sunday, we entered the season of Advent: a time in the church calendar that calls us to wait in expectation for a very special birth… the birth of Jesus Christ… Emmanuel… “God with us…” who came to us in the flesh as a baby boy 2000 years ago and who will one day return to us again.
This season often appears to be overwhelming to us and may even feel at times to be an intrusion in our important lives and busy schedules… Our calendars are already full of Christmas parties, Holiday concerts, tree decorating, shopping for gifts, preparing the home to host guests, getting ready to travel and visit our relatives… and the list goes on. So we cannot even imagine adding one more thing to our “to-do” lists.
And yet here – in the midst of our most busy month of the year – we are invaded by the season of Advent and called to take a step back from the chaos, take a few deep breaths, and wait for the coming of the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love and who brings light to the darkness in this world.
And yet, just as any soon-to-be parent does not just wait for the coming of her child by sitting around idly twiddling her thumbs, we are not called to wait for the coming of Christ in this idle way, either. Rather, we are called to wait in expectation… and to do so with a lot of preparation.
We, too, should schedule regular “check-ups” for our bodies to ensure that they are properly being taken care of: that they are getting enough rest and experiencing Sabbath from the business of our worldly activities – so that our bodies can truly be temples that host and are transformed by the Holy Spirit. We, too, should set up and prepare a room in our homes and our lives for this Jesus – who not only brings us the gifts of love and grace, but who also calls us to follow him and share and emulate that love and grace to others. And we, too, should pick up our own “What to Expect While You’re Expecting… [the birth of Jesus]” books and practices and take time to reflect on what this birth of Jesus actually means for us… what it means for God to be with us in the flesh… and how the gift of this birth did not only impact the world 2000 years ago, but continues to touch and transform our lives today.
As we make room in our lives for God, we can prepare in expectation for the coming of Jesus by stepping back from a few of our busy daily activities and taking on a few new practices:
1. Individual practices and devotionals. Some of my favorites are:
D365 devotional (There is a free app for this.)
3 Minute Retreat (There is a $1 app for this.)
Daily Readings with the Irish Jesuits (scroll down and click on Advent Retreat)
2. Devotionals and rituals for Advent to do as a family:
Why Wait? (Adult/Couple, Young Family) – Advent is about more than just doing nothing.
Advent Chain (Young Adult) – a creative way to pray for friends and family.
Advent: A Time of Waiting (Teen Family) – as a family, talk about how to wait well.
Countdown to Christmas (Young Family) – read a scripture a day during Advent.
Decorate Family Advent Candles (Young Family) – create Advent hope, peace, love, and joy!
Saint Nicholas (Just for Kids) – here the story of the real Saint Nick.
Taking the Advent Story Home (For everyone!) – a terrific daily devotional.
And we can expectantly prepare for the coming of Jesus by responding to the grace and love he brings us. As we light one more Advent candle each week this month and experience the ever-growing light that comes from Christ in the midst of our darkness… let us not just receive and accept this light, but – as our Isaiah text from this week urges us – let us rather, “walk in the light of the Lord.”
…Let us walk in this light of Christ and pass it on through little acts of love to others – whether by giving our waitress or our postal worker a little extra tip this year, or by starting a conversation with the person we sit next to on the train, or by giving a grocery store gift card to a person who is shaking a cup on the side of the street.
…Let us walk in the light of Christ with our family members by volunteering together at a local food pantry, community or soup kitchen, or homeless shelter. (And as we do so, we may be surprised at how much we will experience and receive the light of Christ through those we thought we had gone to “serve.”)
If you live on the north side of Chicago, some great places to volunteer at are:
- Care for Real (Edgewater’s only food and clothing pantry) – hand out food or help sort winter coats and clothes
- A Just Harvest Community Kitchen (community kitchen that serves meals every day in Rogers Park) – serve a meal
- Bethany Retirement Community or Breakers at the Edgewater Beach Assisted Living – Sing Christmas carols to residents
- Sarah’s Circle (women’s shelter in Uptown) – there are many different ways to volunteer
- The Night Ministry – serve meals to people on the street (multiple locations)
…And let us walk in the light of Christ by giving Christmas gifts that have meaning this year. I’ll echo my last post that offered up a few suggestions of fair trade organizations.
31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda
Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda
Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India
B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood
Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices
World Vision – purchase livestock for a child in need
*For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.
Whatever we decide to do this Advent, let us allow this season to intrude upon our lives. Let us step back from some of the extra daily activities that get in the way of focusing on the reason for the season and instead make some space and room to prepare in great expectation for the coming of Jesus Christ. For, as Paul wrote to the Romans (in our epistle lesson this week) “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
(Video taken at 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering with 34,000 youth attendees from around the country. Speaking is Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee: “If you tap into your light, this is how the world will be.”)