Watch for the Light

As much as I love Christmas, I feel like I often miss it.

I put up the tree, go to the parties, give (and receive) the gifts, sing the carols, read the Bible story. None of these activities are bad, but they don’t fully encapsulate why I’m supposed to be celebrating Christmas.

This year I’m not putting up my regular full-size tree due to Complicated Reasons, and though the first time I put up my tree by myself I nearly had an existential crisis, I’ve now grown to enjoy my solo little ritual.  Putting up a couple of small trees didn’t pack quite the same punch, and I’m mourning my big tree a bit. It feels like I’m already starting at a deficit of Christmas Spirit.

On top of that, life has simply felt more messy than usual lately. I keep thinking I’ll get this Adulthood thing figured out one of these days, which keeps on very much not happening.

Plus there’s the sorting and the waiting and the I don’t know-ness of faith in general, and suddenly Christmas is carrying a lot of weight.

~~~

Last week, Addie Zierman wrote about the idea of an Advent Junk Journal. It’s a ragtag collection of whatever paper-like materials that happen to be around, all bound together. And there, in those messy, imperfect pages, is the space to notice. It’s not the pressure of reading chapters and chapters of the Bible each day, or praying a certain number of minutes, or any other obligations besides to see where God already is. Which is, right now, something I need reminders to do.

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He’s there, I believe that, but I’m not always paying attention for it.

As Addie explains it:

There are a thousand ways to encounter God, to experience the hard beauty of Advent, and what I’ve discovered is that more than spending hours reading and praying and journaling — it’s just catching one minute. Capturing one small incandescent bit of beauty falling like a snowflake. To jot it down before it disappears.

~~~

In college, one of my professors gifted me the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It has become one of my most beloved parts of this season–I eagerly await November 24, when the readings begin. Not all of the readings strike me, but some leave me nearly in tears, underlining and starring and scribbling in the margins year after year. The other day, I wrote “My life in 2015” next to a line from a Henri Nouwen essay.

For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.

He gets me.

~~~

And that book title.

Watch for the Light.

It’s what I’m trying so very hard to do this year. I wrote it on the front of my Advent junk journal, stealing the book’s title as the subtitle for my own scribbled words. It is both a gentle reminder as well as a command. Do this I’m telling myself.

The same professor who gifted me the book is the one who introduced me to the idea of a commonplace book, assigning the seemingly simple act of paying attention to our own lives.

No one is giving me a grade these days, but I’m giving myself the same assignment this Advent: Pay attention. 

Each day, I’ll write at least one thing I noticed. Today it was lyrics to a pop song I heard on the radio on my drive home from work, because I’m in love with the idea of common grace and that glimmers of God hide in all things that are true and lovely and beautiful. Yesterday it was lines from a reflection in a Bible app. They’re written on receipts, cupcake wrappers, scraps of paper loosely held together with a length of plastic cord. Everything about my journal is mismatched and motley, which feels like a pretty good metaphor for life.

But I’m committing to this seemingly small act these next few weeks: Watch for the light.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How are you watching for the light this Advent?

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The Fail-Proof Way to Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas

Christmastime comes loaded with pressure. Pressure to host the perfect party, pressure to bake eight different kinds of cookies and then package them prettily, pressure to make Instagram-worthy memories with the people you love. And then, for Christians, there’s the pressure to keep the CHRIST in CHRISTmas.

Except no one actually has the fail-proof way to do that.

Reading the Christmas story and Advent devotionals, going to church, and praying are all ways to help keep Christ in Christmas, but even those can fail. Or maybe I’m just a particularly bad Christian. But I suspect I’m not the only one who has found that even the best of intentions to keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus’ birth sometimes don’t turn out the way we want them to.

Because here’s the thing: At the end of the day, we’re still human. We can try try try to keep Jesus at the heart of Christmas, but our intentions will always go askew.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben Husmann, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben Husmann, Creative Commons

Being human is the recipe for mixed-up intentions.

Which, when we let it, can lead to a lot of guilt. We beat ourselves up over getting excited about presents and looking forward to Christmas dinner, worry that our Christmas parties don’t reflect our Christian faith enough, and fret over singing along to songs about Santa. And, weaved among it all, we subtly fear our celebrations of Jesus’ birth aren’t good enough. We haven’t tried hard enough to bring him glory and to keep the focus on him through it all.

Occasionally it seems tempting to just quit trying to focus on Jesus, and instead throw up our hands, succumb to greedily wanting all the presents ever and yell at our family when they mess up the Christmas ham.

Or, we could realize there is no “fail-proof Christian way” to celebrate Christmas. As with many of the practices of Christianity, there’s not a perfect way to approach Christmas with completely pure intentions. I don’t think we need to take down the tree, return the presents, and give away all our food in order to keep Christ in Christmas.

Our outward actions this time of year may look much the same as the rest of the world, but our reasons for doing them can be drastically different. Perhaps it is in the doing of these actions that our intentions get purified.

Maybe, when we undertake these activities with the knowledge that God rejoices in our celebrations, we can do them in good faith that he knows our why of doing them. We can give—and receive—material gifts realizing that we haven’t earned any of it, and that we’d never, in all our strivings for good intentions, be able to earn the gift Christmas is really about. We can celebrate Christmas in assurance that we serve a God who is not out to make us earn our standing with him, but, because of Jesus, he sees us as good and clean anyway.

A God who loves us, Christmas parties, presents, mixed-up intentions and all.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you handle the pressure to keep Christ in Christmas?

Advent Longing

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sung “O Holy Night,” or heard it on the radio or overhead in the mall. The words are ones I know so well that I rarely even think about them as I sing.

But this year, they are striking me anew. As someone who loves the Christmas season and all its festive cheer, but also reveres the holy anticipation of Advent, I wondered if maybe this time of year would be what I’ve been looking for lately–that elusive “God feeling.” Because despite the commercialism that is so easy to get swept up in, there is still something sacred about this season.

Photo Credit: Flickr User ItzaFineDay, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User ItzaFineDay, Creative Commons

I can’t say that God has showed up in a boisterous, ruckus fashion, clanging his way back into my life with shouts of “I’m here! I’ve been here! Can’t you see me?” In still, small ways though, I have been noticing–and appreciating–his goodness, and the words of “O Holy Night” so beautifully express my, and the world’s, longing for more.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

This year especially, it seems like the world is weary, on edge, waiting for all to be made right–and the song speaks to that as well. Because Jesus wasn’t born just to be a King and a Savior, though he’s those things too. He’s something much closer.

In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger…

Even in the midst of the messes of our lives and of this world, at this time of year, I’m reminded of why this faith I hold so imperfectly, sometimes bewilderingly, but dearly–matters. I’m reminded why Jesus matters. He matters because he brings hope to weariness and brokenness and trials. Because he is making all things new, and reminding me afresh of the truth and beauty of these words.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are there any Christmas carols that are striking you anew lately?

The Anticipation of Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve.

I’m 22, I have a college degree; by quite a few standards I am now an “adult.”

And I still get antsy on this day.

This year I know several of my presents, because I helped pick them out, so my excitement isn’t primarily over gifts like it might have been when I was younger. I’m looking forward to giving some gifts, particularly to my nieces and nephew, and I can’t wait to see their happy little faces. In ways, these are things worth looking forward to.

But my anticipation shouldn’t be entirely about gifts or food or presents. Because tomorrow, we get to celebrate Christmas. 

We get to celebrate Jesus coming to earth as a tiny, wrinkly baby. Incarnation.

Coming to us, his people, in a way we can understand and relate to. Jesus skinned his knees and had hangnails and calloused feet and maybe dandruff and body odor. These are things we know firsthand, because we’ve experienced them too.

And Jesus, God himself, lived on this same earth we walk on.

So it is fitting that I get antsy to celebrate that.

Christmas is more than a day though. This year I’m trying to not put the actual day of Christmas on a pedestal. It’s only 24 hours, and whatever picture of a perfect Christmas I have in my head will not come entirely true. And that’s ok, because Christmas is more than about celebrating a specific day. My anticipation is directed towards more than tomorrow.

Last year around Christmas, I wrote in Advent: Found:

This is the part of Advent I think I had been missing though: the waiting doesn’t end on Christmas. The eager anticipation of that day is a taste of what I should be anticipating each and every day as I wait for Christ to come again…What happened in a stable as foreshadowing of who will come again…What we already have, but not yet in full.

Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a state of being. Of being in continual hopeful expectation and longing for the day when Christ will return.

And that is something worth getting antsy about.

Merry Christmas, and til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you celebrate Christmas? How can you keep it as a reminder that Jesus will come again?