Advent: taking a breath in a season that tends to leave us breathless

Christmas; advent; hope; slow down; celebrate; hope; faith; christ;

I’m in a season of slowing down these days. It’s deliberate, as Christmas preparations start to take on a life of their own. Racing the clock and the calendar to the finish line.

Each year, for the past several, I’ve been cutting back: decorating less, shopping less, baking less… trying to make the season something less frantic than it has been in previous years. (You can read more about that here.)

This year, though, I’m adding something back in.

In addition to preparing to celebrate on the 25th, this is the first year that I’m deliberately slowing down long enough to prepare my heart as well. In my frantic sprint to the Christmas finish line, I’ve left my heart and soul far behind. And I realize, in reflection, that’s what I’ve been missing all along.

Advent implies a wait. It comes from the Latin word Adventus, which means coming; an approach. By its very nature it builds anticipation. While I usually love the anticipation of something that’s coming up, like an evening out or a trip we’ve been planning, by nature, I’m not really a patient person.

If I had the choice, I’d take instant gratification any day over a long and dragged-out wait. Yes, I have enough years of life experience under my belt to know that instant gratification is never the most satisfying option in the end, but that doesn’t change that it feels so amazing in the moment.

Why it’s taken me this long to figure out what’s been missing from my Christmas preparation, I can’t tell you. Perhaps God was just waiting for me to slow down long enough to actually hear him?

Advent.

Anticipation.

The Christmas story begins long before that night in Bethlehem. It wasn’t something that just happened one day: God’s version of an instant gratification Saviour. It’s a love story woven through generations: from the prophecies first found in Isaiah through to a small stable on a starlit night in the gospels. You can’t have one without the other. You need the whole story in order to anticipate the ending.

I love the way Ann Voskamp puts in in her Advent devotional, The Greatest Gift.

“When you open the pages of Scripture to read of His coming, of this first Advent, before you ever read of the birth of Jesus, you always have the genealogy of Jesus. It’s the way the gift unwraps: you have Christ’s family tree… before you have a Christmas tree.

 If you don’t come to Christmas through Christ’s family tree and you come into the story just at the Christmas tree, it’s hard to understand the meaning of His coming. Because without the genealogy of Christ, the limbs of his past, the branches of His family, the love story of His heart that has been coming for you since before the beginning—how does Christmas and its tree stand? Its roots would be sheared. Its meaning would be stunted. The arresting pause of the miracle would be lost.”

Advent invites us to prepare our hearts through the whole story, starting at the beginning.

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
~Isaiah 11:1-2

Advent is about expectation. Waiting for the fulfilment of prophecy that was 4000 years in the making: the coming of a saviour.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God is with us.”
~Isaiah 7:14

 

“As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”
~Matthew 1:20-21

Advent is about hope. And, quite frankly, I look around me and in the news and I think we could all use a little hope right about now.

“And His name will be the hope of all the world.”
~Matthew 12:21

 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
~Romans 15:13

Will you join me in slowing down the approach to Christmas?

I’m building anticipation through the wait. I’m taking slow and deliberate steps to get there; trying to savour the beauty of the season instead of racing through it in a blur of colour and tinsel and frantic.

It doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. It just requires a pause.

For this month, I’ve chosen to do a little reading each morning. I’ve implicated my kids too—surely we can all figure out how to free up 10 minutes first thing for 24 days? (‘Surely’ she says…)

We’re going through The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Short verses, reading and reflections. Just enough to make us pause before the day begins in earnest.

Slow down for just a few minutes each day, step off the treadmill of life—the endless list of must-do’s that keep us frantic—and do something different.

Now, here’s the tricky part. I haven’t yet figured out how to turn back time, and so beginning December 1–at this juncture–will be a challenge. BUT don’t let that stop you. Start today. Or tomorrow. Or next week.

The important thing is not that you were able to check 24 boxes off your list of things to do. (Although, for us “list” people, I admit that is satisfying!) The important thing is that you allowed yourself a deep breath in the midst of a season that tends to leave us breathless.


Now, here’s the helpful part.

In what appears to be an over-subscription problem in my inbox and on my Instagram feed, I’m realizing there is no shortage of creative people and ideas out there to help us walk through advent in a more meaningful way. So, I’m going to post just a few of other people’s brilliant ideas to offer a little inspiration.

Remember, the idea is to SLOW DOWN and make advent—the wait for Christmas—more memorable. Don’t take on more crazy to make it happen. If the “inspiration” just ends of being more overwhelming, then please just stop.

Books. If you’ve got young kids, Ann Voskamp’s picture book, The Wonder of the Greatest Gift, complete with pop-up tree and ornaments for each day is sure to be a hit.

 

Creativity. If your soul lights up through creative endeavours, you might want to try the Advent photo-a-day on Instagram or Facebook. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent (or whenever you get around to starting) post a photo that, to you, reflects the one word prompt in the challenge. The sky’s the limit! Be creative. Take the time to be thoughtful about what you’re capturing and why.

 

Advent readings.
You don’t have to lay out money for a book, there are tonnes of readings out there, available for free on the Internet. Some are just a verse of scripture or two, others are a little more involved. Look through a few and pick one that might fit for you, your family and the time you have. Here’s just a couple to look at:

The Advent Project by Biola University.
Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts puts together a beautiful free online resource each year, focused around experiencing the beauty and mystery of Advent through art. Each day includes a Scripture passage and devotional, as well as a work of visual art, a piece of music, video, poetry, and prayer. You can access it here.

Author Sarah Bessey has created a small advent series of readings you can go through, which are geared toward weekly Advent observation, as opposed to daily. Maybe five readings in December is less daunting than 24? Go for it. You can find her advent series here.

Practical stuff.
If readings aren’t your cup of tea and you want to get your hands dirty, you can join The Advent Conspiracy. I first heard about this amazing organization just this year, and am considering getting involved in the future. I love the idea of channeling my energy into something good.

Here’s a blurb from their website, which I will be checking out more thoroughly in the weeks to come. “Christmas is not our local shopping mall’s story to tell. Christmas is the Church’s story to tell—it’s ours. So in 2006, 5 pastors decided to do Christmas differently. They called it the Advent Conspiracy, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through their season of preparation for Christmas.”

In 11 years, millions of dollars have been diverted to an organization that provides safe drinking water to developing countries around the world. But more than that, the project has helped to transform the lives of individuals and families who wanted something Christmas to look different than it had. (Sound familiar?)

Reverse advent calendar. I saw this one on Pinterest a few years ago and LOVE the idea.

Instead of opening a gift or little chocolate square on a calendar (ok… maybe having the chocolate is okay AND…) Choose one item from the cupboard to donate to the food bank. Put the item(s)–because if you have more than one kid, they’ll each get to choose an item–in a box or basket for collection and then deliver it to the food bank just after Christmas. It’s a great opportunity to give your kids a first hand look at what poverty in their own city looks like and show them what generosity looks like in a small and practical way.

Kindess calendar. I confess, I stole this one from a friend who posted it. She’s one of the biggest hearts I know and, of course, this is what she’s doing. It would be easy to let something like this overwhelm you though, so consider doing even one thing per week for the month. Don’t pick this if you think it’s going to shut you down.

Ok, so clearly, this is a start. I hope it will give you some inspiration to tackle something for the next few weeks that will help you take your focus off the frantic and put your eyes back on the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.


Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

*written by Tom Howard, RH Pritchard, Charles Wesley


My sincerest hope is that you’re inspired by what’s here on this site, not overwhelmed and adding to your list of things to-do. So not my intention.

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