In this season of Advent, we receive a gentle reminder to return to the Lord. Advent is a strange mixture of moving away from God (consumerism, secular celebrations, stress) and moving toward God (Christmas pageants, carols, and Christmas Eve worship services). In the midst, there is God’s voice beckoning us to come home. And a promise – God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Christmas (secular Christmas, which is the church’s Advent) can be a stressful time. We put so much pressure on ourselves to get it all done, to do it well, to give beyond our means, and to see every member of the extended family at least once – out of obligation, not ‘cause we want to. In my household, we have made a decision not to make those things a priority. We do not send Christmas cards (although I will admit, I love receiving them!). We do not fill the tree with a cornucopia of plastic crap that will be forgotten ten minutes after it’s opened. We do not spend the holidays with extended family. (None of our extended family lives in Minnesota where we live – we make visiting a priority at other times of the year.) What do we make a priority? Spending time together as a family. Going to the tree farm, eating donillas (Nilla wafer mini-donuts) and hot cocoa, and getting a perfect tree. Or a not-so-perfect tree. Or hanging out at the tree farm and getting a tree somewhere else. It doesn’t really matter ‘cause it’s spending time together that we desire. Making cookies. Or tacos. ‘Cause nothing says Christmas like Mexican food. Going to Christmas Eve worship in our Sunday best. Or in our jeans. (Sorry, Pastor Tom.) Turning off the TV and playing silly (unplugged) games while the Christmas roast is cooking. Laughing together. Remembering Christmas is about love—love that came down from heaven to earth. Love that we share as a family—love that isn’t shown with expensive gifts, but with kind words and loving hugs. And you know what? Christmas at my house isn’t all that stressful, because we’ve learned we can live without all those things we used to think we had to have. Hallelujah! Christmas is just about love.
Joel 2:12-13, 28-29:
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.