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Survive the Holidays By Pausing to Reflect

December 5, 2010

Christmas requires a lot from us, doesn’t it? Decking the halls, cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, sending cards, attending parties, going to church, shopping some more, making a list, checking it twice, and heading back to the mall. Buying the right gifts, cooking the food everyone likes, and fervently hoping this Christmas is the perfect Norman Rockwell moment we’ve always hoped for can be incredibly stressful.

What if we all stopped for a few moments each day and reflected, truly reflected, on the meaning of this season?

I reconnected with the concept of Advent a couple of years ago as a regular attender of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Knoxville. I knew vaguely of Advent from my upbringing in a semi-practicing Catholic home, but beyond making construction paper Advent wreaths I don’t recall really observing the season.

Advent is the four-week period of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Christ. The abiding emotion is anticipation, of both Christ’s birth and His second coming. Messiah is coming, and will bring with Him hope, peace, love and joy. Hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are sung. Scripture readings focus on the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, for example. 

I love Advent. To step away from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. To tune out favorite carols, turn off favorite movies and holiday specials, and, for just a moment remember what it’s all about makes Christmas all the more special to me.

While Advent is already underway, it’s not too late to grow your own sense of anticipation. A great devotional called In My Heart I Carry a Star, by Derek Maul, offers daily readings for the whole family. Walter Wangerin Jr.’s Preparing for Jesus provides readings from December 1 through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (which in some traditions marks the arrival of the Three Kings to Bethlehem). John Blase’s Touching Wonder is more of a 12-days-of Christmas approach to reflecting on the season.  For a challenge, try Phyllis Tickle’s Christmastide, which is a manual for praying the Divine Hours during Advent. I’ve been using Tickle’s manual and it’s definitely a challenge to stop and pray five times a day.

I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s not the point of the manual, any of the other tools I’ve talked about or of observing Advent at all. It’s okay not to be perfect (or legalistic, as some might say). It’s about intent, and heart. 

Put up an Advent wreath–or don’t. Use blue candles (Lutheran tradition), purple and pink candles (Catholic) or the color of your choice, frankly. Our wreath, which is porcelain, has green candles in it. It’s beautiful.

That’s the point. This season is beautiful, and it will be over before we know it. Savor it where you can.

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