The holiday season is rapidly approaching. As I write this, I have a Thanksgiving dinner grocery list in my pocket, the first Christmas gifts are awaiting their wrapping paper, and my church to-do list is growing daily. It sometimes feels like all the lists of Christmas can take the place of the heart of Christmas. But it doesn’t need to be that way. This Advent, I invite you to join me in four practices as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
First, practice hope. Paul closes the letter to the Romans with these words:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
During this busy season, it is an act of hope to take time for ourselves and our loved ones. When we take care of ourselves, we are saying that we are valued. And when we care for and spend time with our loved ones, we are affirming their value in our lives. Hope is an expectation that the God we love and follow values us so much that God will one day lead us into a future that is worth the wait.
Second, practice peace. In October I took part in a workshop that taught us a few principles of the dramatic art of Improv. One of its key principles is a willingness to stay engaged with your partner in the exercise. To do that, we respond to whatever our partner says with “yes, and…” Not “yes, but.” For instance, if one of my kids said to me, “Let’s go to the zoo!”, I might be tempted to say, “Yes, but it is raining and we’d need to dress for the weather.” Instead, using Improv techniques, I might say “Yes, and we’d better wear our raincoats, it looks like rain.” Responding with “yes, and” keeps the conversation going, affirms the person who started the conversation, and in general helps us to practice peace in our relationships.
Third, practice joy. The wise men who brought the first gifts to the child Jesus, followed a star to find where Jesus had been born. We read in Matthew’s gospel,
2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
If you are like me and the wise men, you may also find joy at Christmas in giving gifts to others – whether finding just the right present, or offering a gift of your time or service to another. Listening deeply to one another is always a gift that is received with joy.
And fourth, practice love. As 1 John 4 reminds us,
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
As we share the love we have received with others, we are sharing God’s love with them. This is the message of Christmas, that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son so that we may have eternal life (John 3:16-17).
Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are also the themes for our Advent worship this year. I hope you will join me in taking a long loving look at each practice and how it shows up in our lives.
Have a blessed Advent and Christmas season,