As I sat in the choir this morning I had a great view of our church nativity scene. It being the first Sunday of Advent, however, it was not what you might expect to see. There is a big lighted, open fronted, wooden barn. Inside there were a couple of sheep and a shepherd.
- Everyday life in Bethlehem. Shepherds, farmers and their families.
This is actually the most normal scene it could be. Most barns and stables are there for the farmers, in this case shepherds, to house their animals. Barns are not for people to stay in, and certainly not to be confused with maternity wards! Christmas Eve will see a young family move into the stable. How does this come to pass? They will be in the stable because there was no vacancy at any of the inns in Bethlehem.
This is a pretty familiar story isn’t it? I wonder if there are vacancies in our hearts for the travelers, the tired, the poor, the displaced, and other folks in need in our communities and our world. In Bethlehem the inns were filled up with those people, in town for the census, without families with whom they could stay. Not only that, but they were the ones who had started out early, planned wisely, and traveled quickly. From many people’s perspective, Mary and Joseph brought their problems on themselves, they didn’t deserve a room since they didn’t have their acts together! Mary,however, was in no condition to travel more quickly.
How often do you hear people question whether or not the poor deserve our support. After all, “If they didn’t want to be poor they should get off their butts and get jobs!” When we feel this way, the rooms of our heart are all filled up with self-righteousness, pride, and prejudice. For those people most in need, their material help may lie with us, so we need to pray for help with clearing out those undesirable tenants. Remembering that we in no way deserve the grace of God, and that we constantly do things that make us less deserving, should be the humbling we need to remove the pride and self-righteousness. The only thing we can do to get rid of the prejudices taking up space in our hearts, is to learn about, and get to know those who need our help.
This morning I was standing in line at the cash register at a local store. There was Christmas music playing in the background, and I became aware that all three of us in line were toe tapping etc. to the music. I noted this to them and suggested that it must mean that it was early in the season as later on we would likely be complaining about being tired of hearing it. We had a nice chuckle, and one of the women noted that it wasn’t even December yet. When I commented that Advent starts tomorrow one of the women asked what I’m giving up. I said that we give things up for Lent and not Advent, and that it is a good thing! That got me thinking…
We actually give up many things during Advent don’t we?
We give up common sense with respect to our eating habits. Our best intentions with respect to eating healthfully typically go out the window as the chocolate, candy and home-baked sweets are set out to tempt us, and big family dinners go on and on!
We give up on our budgets as we buy special clothing for Christmas parties, and get caught up in all the Christmas shopping hype. Out come our credit cards and we lose track quickly of how even really great prices can be too much if you buy too many things.
Neither of those are good for us, but there are more things given up during Advent and Christmas…
We relax those tight fists on our purse strings and donate more to charities and causes. Knowing this it is the main time of year for organizations such as World Vision to put out catalogues of items so that people see something concrete to go along with their monetary donation. Along with our money we loosen up and give more of our time and talents at this time as well. People go out to entertain at nursing homes, work to collect food and clothing for food banks etc.
It is a time to give up on despair, to be replaced by the hope that comes with the birth of the Messiah.
We give up on arguments, feuds, and wars (remember hearing about the troops in the WWI in 1914 meeting in no-man’s-land to celebrate Christmas) and accept the gift of peace from the Prince of Peace!
We let go of our inner Grinch and, in joy, we smile, sing, and celebrate the birth of a baby boy!
And finally, out goes our loneliness as we accept the love of God and the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
So it turns out the question the woman asked me in line this morning was pretty insightful after-all. What will I give up for Advent? How about you?
Posted in anticipation, Christmas, Reflections
Tagged Advent, charity, Christmas, debt, diet, giving, giving up, hope, joy, Lent, love, peace, World Vision