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Why does Advent matter?

Our Elf is not on the Shelf this year. She’s happily resting on a ladder propped against the tree. She’ll stay there with her little sideways grin until we pack all the stuff up until next year.

I’ve got two Advent calendars and a little chalkboard to count down the days set out. But let’s be real here – I’ve been behind since Dec. 3. As much as I loved the Advent wreath in our church when I was growing up, I’ve never managed to successfully get that tradition started here at the Underwood abode. And the stack of Advent devotionals grows every year, but I tend to go back to just one … and even then I sometimes spend Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon trying to catch up on the readings.

We are a busy family. I don’t wear it as a badge of honor or a mark of shame. It’s just a fact. With a husband on staff at an amazing church and a teenage daughter who is active and social (and, let’s face it, I have a few things on my own plate as well), our calendar stays pretty full most of the time. October through February is the most chaotic time of the year … and guess what falls smack dab in the middle of that crazy? Advent.

As a Type A, Enneagram type 3 (achiever), ENFP (campaigner) person, I want to do it all and do it all perfectly … and I want to make sure you want to do it all too. So when it comes to Advent, all that energy and drive and desire means I basically want to read every devotional, do every activity, and drag my less-than-enthusiastic family along with me … until I get bored or captivated by a new idea.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had several big projects to complete, and that has left me without as much time to plan a perfect Advent for our family. (Yes, the people here in the house breathed a collective sigh of relief.) One word has been resounding in my spirit – abide.

Jesus speaks about abiding in John 15, urging His disciples to grasp what it is to walk steadily with Him and know Him deeper. My soul and my body need some space, y’all. In the middle of all this chaos, I feel my spirit yearning for stillness and quiet. And I read this in God for us, “When we cut through the sentiment and marketing to the spiritual riches of Christmas, we recover not only a sense of who God is but also who we are as human beings. Such a recovery cannot happen in a day … real, lasting change comes about over time.”

Advent is an invitation for us to prepare and anticipate the wonder of God wrapped in flesh, God with us, a baby in a manger. If we’re going to recover that sense of who God is and through that who we are — it’s going to take time, to ponder our hearts. It’s easy to practice Advent and do all the stuff but miss the point.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with watching a movie every day with your kids or marking off the days on your calendar or even reading a special devotional every day. There isn’t! But if you have to choose (and let’s face it, many of us will), might you consider choosing space in your heart and mind for reflecting on the holy and wholly undeserved gift of Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us?

 

This year, I’ve just cut way back. I’m not worried about the calendars and devotionals. I’m reading Luke, a chapter a day through Christmas Eve, and most mornings I’m also using my favorite Advent guide. But mostly, I’m prioritizing moments of stillness, those easily-missed pockets of time when I can simply “be still and know” that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

Perhaps your Advent plans have already fallen apart. Or maybe you’re just going through the motions. Can I tell you, you don’t have to! Seriously. You don’t. It will be OK. I promise.

Why does Advent matter? Not because of traditions or making memories (even though those can be important parts of the season). Advent matters because it is a beautiful invitation to stop in the midst of all the chaos and see, as if for the first time, a world and our own hearts aching with need for a Savior. As we see this need, we look forward to celebrating the moment when everything changed: when a Baby’s cry pierced a dark night in a stable in a little town and God is now, and always, with us.

 

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