Adventwreath Advent has begun!  Advent is traditionally a time of preparation…in this case, preparation for the coming birth of our Messiah.  How do we as Christians prepare, once again, for this holy day?  What do we do to prepare our hearts, prepare our homes, prepare our lives, prepare our families for this holy celebration?

A time of preparation…what does it mean to prepare?  Here is a pretty simple definition:  “to make things or oneself ready beforehand for a specific purpose, as for an event or occasion…to equip in advance.”  When I prepare for a trip, for instance, I generally start by making a list of all the things I need to do and all the things I need to pack.  Then, as I go through my preparations, I check things off my list.  Very systematic and orderly.

As I prepare for Christmas, I find that I use a similar approach.  “I’m making a list, checking it twice…”  Gifts to buy, events to attend, songs to rehearse, traditions to remember….put up the lights, get out the decorations, trim the tree, deliver the basket.  My to-do list is full of things I love to do…buy gifts for other people, decorate our home with sparkly lights, learn Christmas music to perform at church, attend my children’s performances, plan get-togethers with people I love.  Every one of those things speaks right to my heart…time spent with loved ones, making our home a sanctuary, enjoying and performing music, worshipping and serving with my church family.   All good stuff, right?

The only problem is that all that busyness may serve to disconnect me from the reason that we celebrate.  How do I, how do we, stay conncected to the Source of our Joy amidst the preparations?  Perhaps, in spite of the preparations?  How do we get to December 26th and not have any regrets about the way we spent the month of December?

I have been reading a new Advent devotional this year that I am thoroughly enjoying so far.  It is called A Light Blazed in the Darkness.  One of the women who contributed to the book said this about our usual way of defining preparedness:

Being prepared means to be ready to handle effectively whatever situation you find yourself in…Of course, this is exactly the opposite of what it means to prepare for the arrival of Jesus Christ.  Instead of making sure you have the resources to handle whatever comes your way, Advent is about peeling away all those layers of knowledge and protection that keep you status-quo-bound.  Advent is all about allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable so that you can be swept up and away by the Word Made Flesh…

The Coming of God is not something we can handle or absorb.  It is impossible!!  It is exactly the kind of thing that blows us off our perches and takes us to places that we would never have thought of going.  Thanks be to God!

This really resonated with me.  I have spent so many Advents with good intentions of “doing it right.”  Daily devotions and bible readings, quiet reflections on the meaning of the Nativity, lovely entries in my journal reflecting the profound insights that I have experienced from God….yeah, right!!  Then, because it doesn’t quite happen that way, I have a vague sense of discontent on the 26th that I somehow failed to experience the Christmas of my expectations…that I somehow “missed” it.  Don’t get me wrong, disciplines such as these are wonderful and I treasure the times during December when I have the opportunity to experience those kinds of quiet moments.  But, I am coming to understand that these types of expectations for Advent really just put that focus back on me (instead of God)…what am I doing to orchestrate, manufacture, invoke a Christmas “moment?”  Just like the perfect Christmas morning I try to create for my children, am I trying to “birth” Christ in me through my own busyness…my own preparations…my own efforts?

Maybe God doesn’t need me to orchestrate the message He has for me this Christmas.  Maybe God has a plan for which He doesn’t need my help.  Maybe my part is to grab those quiet moments when I can, but to realize that God is equally present in those wilder, louder, crazier, busier moments.  Perhaps we should prayerfully remain open and surrendered to the serendipitous gifts of Presence we may experience through no efforts of our own, if only we are watching for Him. Perhaps we might all be better served by letting go of our expectations of how we should “do” Christmas and expectantly wait for God to show us how He “does” Christmas.  I am finding that, when I let go of my preconceived notions of who God is and what He can do, He shows Himself to be bigger and better than I could even imagine.  The first Christmas certainly shows us that He is a God that defies conventional expectations!!

Here is the prayer that ends the devotion that I referenced:

God, who arrives in places and times we could never anticipate, thank you.  We don’t want to “handle” You; we want to welcome You into our heart and lives.  Show us where to find the courage to abandon those hopes of being ready and help us instead to empty ourselves.  May we be filled, when You do arrive, with joy and singing and sharing so fantastic that even the cynics will not be able to resist You.  Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.  I am watching and waiting to see Your glory this Christmas.  I can’t wait to see what You have planned!