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Advent Reminds Us What It Means to Be Human

Advent Reminds Us What It Means to Be Human

Have you heard Christmas music playing in the stores this month? Songs are reminding us that this is the most wonderful season of all. There are gifts to be purchased and given. Many of us have more social opportunities and church services this month than we usually do. Those in any kind of ministry role often find December to be a full month of chances to serve. But it all can
pile up until there is more to do than we feel there is time to do it. So instead of the happiest season of all, for many it just feels like the busiest time of the year.

How ironic that a season in which we remember Christ as Emmanuel, “God with us,” can be among the most distracting seasons of all. Instead of seeing the many social engagements and opportunities to be generous as a joyful gift, it can all feel rather overwhelming. We can find ourselves dreading it all rather than anticipating a month full of gifts to be given and received.

Our hurried souls have a way of importing all the tasks and gatherings of the next few days or weeks into the present moment. When we do that, of course we are overwhelmed. Instead of living in the present moment, we attempt omnipresence. We try to inhabit every moment that lies ahead of us, but right now. Our hearts, our minds and even our bodies become stressed.

Over the weeks of Advent, in preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus to make himself at home among us, the people of God celebrate hope, peace, joy and love. Each of these virtues are the opposite of hurry.

  • Hope finds buoyancy in a vision of the path ahead being guarded by God’s great faithfulness.
  • Peace is the profound gift of well-being that arises from within us in the middle of a hurried, anxious world.
  • Joy is the deep, holy energy of God’s empowering presence with us even when our circumstances are unhappy.
  • And, love is the most unhurried virtue of them all. Love is spacious. Love is patient. Love slows down to care for those in greatest need among us.

When the culture around me seeks to hurry me to buy something, do something, go somewhere, it helps me to remember that a very practical reason I shouldn’t hurry is because there are so many things that simply can’t be hurried.

We can’t rush certain natural processes. A baby takes a couple of decades to grow up into an adult. Earth’s tectonic plates may move only a dozen feet in a human lifetime. A tree may take decades to transition from seed to full growth. The sun will rise when it rises. Time cannot be rushed. There are always sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, and twenty-four hours in a day. There is no accelerator pedal for time.

This is just as true in the holidays as it is in the quieter moments of our year. Creation has its pace. Would you like to enjoy a fine bottle of wine? You’ll need to give it plenty of time to mature and ripen. Simple table wines may be ready more quickly.

A conversation over the holidays that is given unhurried time for attentive interaction will be more satisfying than a quick chat while we’re on our way to something else. Getting the amount and quality of sleep our bodies need will serve us better than stealing time for work away from our rest. Using resources sustainably (more slowly) will be better for us over time.

So what might it look like to slow down for the holidays?

Resist anxiety. We could seek to be intentional to follow the good counsel of Jesus: “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” That includes not worrying about what’s happening in an hour either. Be where you are. Simply do what you are presently doing. Be with the one who is there with you. Practice living fully in the present moment. It’s the only place you actually are, and it’s the only place to experience the presence of God.

Do one thing at a time. Experiment with less multi-tasking. Drink your morning coffee or tea without reading or watching anything. Maybe just look out your window or, if the weather cooperates, sit outside for a few minutes. You could give yourself a morning to wake without an alarm clock. Do whatever you do in each moment with gratitude to the God who is now with you.

Take a stroll in your neighborhood to enjoy any decorations that might be up. Take your time. Don’t count your steps. Feel the cold air on your face. Pay attention with all your senses.

Slow down to notice others. Be present to the grocery clerk or salesperson who is helping you with your order. Look them in the eye and thank them for their help. See if you can’t be a non-anxious presence to them in this hectic season. Look for opportunities to be generous and helpful to those less blessed than you.

Be grateful. See if you can’t make gratitude more of a constant in these busy weeks. Thank God for big things and little ones. Thank people for great gifts and small ones. Be grateful looking back. Be grateful in the moment. Gratitude has a way of slowing us down inside.

Read the Jesus story. At some point on Christmas day, give yourself the gift of reading the gospel story of the birth of Jesus. (Luke 2:1-21 is always good). Read it slowly enough to let God’s Spirit highlight something in the story that intersects with your present experience. Savor whatever God’s Spirit gives you.

In the end, life operates best at the unhurried pace of God’s creation. So do the holidays. May you experience the empowering presence of Emmanuel slowing you to the pace of grace, the pace of peace, the pace of patience, the pace of love.

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