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Last night I was flipping through a year’s worth of Instragrams (in my case, it is a big pile) to construct a Christmas gift for my in-laws.  As the mother of two small children, most of my feed is filled with their antics–big and small moments.  Scrolling mindlessly through and watching them grow over the course of the year, I was filled with an increasing sense of gratitude for the gift they are in my life.  It is a privilege to be their mom, to be allowed to care for them and to love them.  My feed is not just my kids though; it is sprinkled with events on campus and retreats.  I also got to review my contributions on campus and see the growth over a year in that way.  And then, every now and again, my feed pauses for fall leaves, for spring blossoms, for a foggy morning or for the texture of brick in my neighborhood. All I could see was abundance.

Now, I am a die hard Christmas lover. Seasonal tunes can barely wait for the day after Thanksgiving (which, by the way, is always the day I get a Christmas tree).  I spend an inordinate amount of time planning to fit in the Festival of Lights, and ice skating downtown, and shopping under the lights, and baking, and crafting, and, and, and… (you get the idea).  It can be more than a bit exhausting. Underneath all that is a deep desire to connect during this time of year–to my loved ones, to my communities, to a seemingly ancient story of God coming to be with us.  When I make these connections, I realize the story is not ancient at all, but still happening everyday.

Somehow though, making a list and sending links for appropriate gifts to the relatives who find that helpful, worrying about who should be on the Christmas card list, whether to get a gift for so-and-so, all of that distracts me from the story, from the real reason that I find warmth in this season.

Every year I feel like I struggle to find ways to meaningfully practice Advent (what is Advent you ask?The liturgical season before Christmas… but, Wikipedia is helpful for the boring, historical version).  Be sure to be at church each week. Light Advent candles at home. Pray more (and then fail at that). This is no easy feat with lines for Black Friday, church events, community events, family events, all of which can be hard to say no to.

Advent is about waiting and noticing.  So, this year, I am going to use a couple questions to discern what will keep my heart in the right place this season.  Does this (activity, gift, event, thought) reflect the God of abundant love or the culture of never having enough?  Does it leave me wanting more, or grateful for having experienced abundance?

As for practices… we’ll see.  A Mommy-blogger I read suggested getting all shopping and gift procurement done in November so that December is about the good stuff.  Have been trying to do that.  My daughter and I are planning on making granola for the extended families instead of gifts they might not need or want.  Not a bad way to go.  I have this dream that I will bake Christmas cookies and deliver them to the neighbors I have been struggling to get to know. We will light advent candles at our dinner table (though I probably won’t get it together to be this formal). I will work on noticing the invitations God gives to me this month to love more deeply, because I know those are around every day, all year.

What will you do?  On the CFJ blog, we will highlight four themes with reflections meant to help us all focus this season on something more.  (Check out Advent Conspiracy for the themes and some of the why) But there are lots of other ways for you to engage this season too.  Maybe it a pic a day challenge like this one. Maybe it is supporting adventurous local business owners like these folks with the dollars you spend. Maybe it is giving gifts that support a cause like the SOLD Projectthe Heifer Project or International Justice Mission.  Maybe you help someone you knowbecome a micro-financier​. Or, share the gifts that don’t cost much.  Sing somewhere. Take a cousin, a nephew, a niece, a neighbor, to hang out.  Build a relationship and give there parent a break. Bake. Share. Ask someone else about their traditions.  Invite someone to join in on yours. Let us know how you are doing advent a little different this year, and together, we will remember that the story is not over. Christmas can still change the world.

avatar1Abby King-Kaiser is on staff with the CFJ working with all sorts of folks in all sorts of basically pastoral ways.  She is more formally known as the Assistant Director for Ecumenical and Multifaith Minsitry.