Waiting With Anticipation!  Dear readers, the turkey dinner is over, the football games done, and today as I write this weekend musing the scurry of Black Friday is on. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to shop at a good price but I’ve done Black Friday several times and decided this was not for me, especially when a lady tried to steal a small microwave right out of my cart. You probably have your own stories—good or bad—on holiday shopping.

I marvel at the quick turn-around from a day of thanks to “now it’s Christmas-time” even though we’re a month away. Oh how the world beckons us to get going and shop away. In his new book, Honest Advent, Scott Erickson writes: “Have you lost the sense of just how full of amazing wonder Christmas is? Maybe for you, the joy of the season is painfully dissonant with the hard edges of life. Or maybe you feel wearied by the way Christmas has become a polished, predictable routine. Or maybe this sacred divine story is too confusing and feels too far removed from our modern world.”

I grew up in a denomination that celebrated Advent before Christmas. At a young age, this ‘Advent stuff’ didn’t make much sense to me. Opening up little doors on a glitter card didn’t excite me, even the Advent wreath seemed all but just ritual. But through my 30+ years as a church musician and chaplain, I’ve seen the JOY in preparing for Christmas. Reading the Scriptures about people longing for the Messiah, especially the story of John the Baptist and his family and Mary and Joseph—families linked by genealogy and a deep faith of God’s promise of a Messiah. To miss that and jump to Christmas Eve seems shallow now; after all, doesn’t the family start celebrating an up-coming birth as soon as that family member tells everyone? Mom’s are already buying the new baby their clothes!!

I think that is why Advent teaches us something. I find it sad that few churches observe Advent so we can prepare our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. The word ‘Advent’ means “coming” and what child right now isn’t anticipating those gifts under the tree with hopes that they would arrive sooner?! Or the joys we insert in our lives at this time by putting up trees, wreaths, stockings, baking delicious goodies, singing carols, etc. When my twin-sister makes her home-made chocolate truffles my anticipation soars, and I’m already savoring the sweetness of her wonderful talents.

Advent IS anticipation! It includes that waiting for the ‘big day’ when families gather to open gifts, eat, go to Christmas musicals, worship services, etc. We adjust our lives for the extra things we do by once-again intentionally making a new space in our lives. Is that space however, for Jesus’ birth or something else?

In his book, Erickson says: “I came up with some definitions for spirituality and religion that help me a lot. Spirituality is the process of making what is invisible visible. Religion is the practices, rhythms, and rituals we develop around that visibility. Christ incarnating 2,000 years ago was the ultimate spiritual expression—the unseen becoming seen. But the big question today: Is Christmas a memorial service or is it a birthday party? Meaning did Christ come only once or is Christ still coming into our midst? Ask any kid in Sunday school what Christmas is and they’ll say, “It’s Jesus’ birthday!” So it’s a birthday party. So where’s the birthday boy?”

Our religious traditions are the mechanics that help us get in touch with the essence—which is the living Christ. Service and giving help us embody grace. Music and singing let us corporately participate in worship to the Almighty. Humility and vulnerability become the very doorway of connecting with a God who came into our midst through human vulnerability. That’s where we find Jesus now: in the midst of our human vulnerabilities.”

He also picks up on the word ‘Wonder’ which means “emerging from a place of not knowing.” If we were to be honest with ourselves, could we say the ‘wonder’ of Christmas gets a bit tainted with all the other activities that over-shadow it. For many, the familiarity of the Christmas story kills that “child-like” wonder and our Christmas traditions now run off of nostalgia and familiarity–the wonder of God’s incredible gift fades away like the dying embers of a fire.

Erickson writes: “So it’s a birthday party. So where’s the birthday boy?” This question is something we all need to re-vision. We need to ‘un-know’ the story and dive in deeper, searching for what we don’t know and affirming what we know. That’s exactly what Advent is for. Preparing, longing, anticipating and reclaiming the’ wonder’ of the gift God gave us in Jesus. Doing this would be quite the transformation, but think of changing it up this year. Go get an Advent wreath or calendar, read the Scriptures that tell us of the faithful folks who prepared the way for Jesus. Look again at how God worked miracle after miracle in their lives.

As you read God’s word, be prepared to find something new that you hadn’t taken in to your heart and mind. If that doesn’t restore your ‘wonder’ of the season I don’t know what will. There is so much richness, joy and HOPE in the coming of Jesus from earth to heaven. Let’s be prepared to see with new eyes the wonder of God’s wonderful gift in Christ. Let’s hear the sounds of the season that sing His praises.

In closing, ponder these words from Erickson’s response to his own loss of the wonder of Christmas: “My deepest question years ago was wondering if Christmas offered any hope in the chaotic and messy world I found myself in. Was it just sentimental pageantry or was it spiritual participation? What I was longing for was an honest hope; a hope that was robust enough to handle the complex reality I find myself in. In order to get to an honest hope, I had to start with an honest Advent because that will make all the spiritual difference for reclaiming the wonder of Christmas.”

I pray we once again embrace the wonder of Christmas as we wander through our messy lives. After all, Jesus came to clean-up that mess of sin. The angel Gabriel said it best when he told Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Honestly—isn’t that what Christmas is all about? —AMEN!