A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Readings From Outside The Box

I thought it would be fun to put together an Advent Calendar of sorts with daily readings for the 25 days until Christmas. Most of the Advent Devotions I have read are all about avoiding the hustle and bustle of the holidays or focused on getting  in touch with the true meaning of Christmas.  Both of these are good ideas but certainly not new concepts.  I tend to get frustrated when I read devotions that are nothing new.  So, I thought I would try to write Advent readings that would encourage out of the box thinking and give us a new perspective on Christmas.  The inspiration for this was the article I reference in the reading for December 1st.  It enabled me to see the season through someone else’s eyes.  This is a heart opening blessing.  I hope these readings will open your heart to the blessings of Christmas and how you can be blessed to be a blessing amidst the wrapping paper and baked goods.  My intention is for you to read the reading of the day and then come back each day to read the next.  But if you are like me, I tend to be impatient and read the whole thing.  That is fine.  Just remember the readings are here to come back to on days when you need a fresh perspective on the holidays.  If you would like me to email you the devotions each day, let me know.  May we all have a blessed and meaningful Christmas season.   

December 1st  
I hope you will take time to follow this link http://www.textweek.com/advent_story.htm and read this article by Jenee Woodard.   For those stubborn few of you who won’t follow the link, I will do my best to summarize.  It is a story about a boy with autism.  This boy needed order in his life and the lights, decorations, festivities, and changes of the Christmas season were very upsetting to him.  The sight of a present being unwrapped brought him to tears and he left his own presents sitting untouched.  After years of the Christmas season being a time of stress and tears for this young boy, one year he asked for something for Christmas.  Something that seems so simple was a tremendous sign of growth and hope for this boy.   
In my house this time of year every toy commercial is followed by the inevitable cry, “I want that for Christmas!”  It can be disheartening to parents who are trying to raise children who resist the societal pull toward materialism.  Yet here is a situation where those words were music to a mother’s ears.  
This brought several thoughts to my mind.  What are the holidays like for those with mental, physical, or emotional challenges?  What a blessing to have children that don’t have to face those particular challenges.  And what a blessing it is, though it doesn’t always seem like a blessing, to have children who know what they want and can thoroughly enjoy receiving gifts.  As my children grow, their Christmas requests change and reveal something about who they are as unique individuals.  When my children were tiny, every opinion they developed was a fun new revelation and a sign of growth.  I am grateful to be reminded what a blessing this is.  
December 2nd 
A couple of years ago I read In Defense of Singing Christmas Carols During Advent! by David Lose.  For those of you who don’t know or have forgotten: on the church calendar the Sundays leading up to Christmas are Advent, the season of Christmas does not begin until Christmas Day.  Whether we should sing Christmas songs before the season of Christmas arrives is an old argument.  But, Professor Lose gave me new perspective.  He points out that there is such breadth and depth to the songs of the Christmas season that we can not possibly cover them all in the short season after Christmas.  Then he writes,We cannot let the malls take over our heritage! If we're not teaching our children the carols, they'll learn them from the popular culture or not at all. In that case, you run the risk that they won't be able to distinguish between Irving Berlin's version of Christmas and the Bible's.”   I love Christmas music from hymnody to humor.  This gives me pause to think about some of the beautiful words of the hymns and to consider what songs I would most like my children to learn.  Pretty sure “Santa Baby” is not one of them.  Perhaps “O Come, O Come Immanuel”  or “Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming”... the possibilities are breath taking.  Of course, I had to look up the words just now to refresh my memory.  So, maybe I should teach them to myself first! And yes I realize one of these is an Advent song.  Don’t get technical with me!
December 3rd 
Now let’s go from the deep to the shallow.  While I love the hymns mentioned above, I do also appreciate some of the many humorous songs of this season.  One of my favorites is “The Christmas Can Can” by Straight No Chaser.  Is it irreverent or blasphemous to be amused by such things in this holy season?  Rather I think it is an exercise in something very healthy: laughing at ourselves.  Sometimes we take lives and our selves entirely too seriously.  We are human.  We will make mistakes.  We do ridiculous and even hypocritical things.  Surely we must try to do better but what better way to call our own attention to our own flaws then through humor?  There is a long tradition that supports the efficacy of humor.  Jesters were employed in part to criticize the king through jokes and jests.  Perhaps we will be more likely to change our behavior when we are laughing at ourselves than when we are being beaten over the head with guilt.  So, laugh away.  Enjoy the funny songs.  Release some stress through laughter.  Learn to laugh at yourself.  It is good for the soul.  If you would like a little extra sarcasm in your day, enjoy this article by Ed Spivy, Jr.,  Nine Tips to Help You Survive Advent

December 4th  
This blog post http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2011/11/join-me-katie-on-dec-16-for-wear-star-wars-share-star-wars/ tells about a little girl who was bullied because she had a Star Wars water bottle.  She was told girls couldn’t like Star Wars.  I am a girl.  I love Star Wars.  So, naturally I am in her corner.  What this made me think about, though, was how Christmas is a great opportunity to encourage people to step out of the stereotypes, to stretch their comfort zones, and to try something new.  If a girl asks for a truck, I hope we don’t try to talk her out of it or ask her for an explanation anymore than we would if she were a boy.  But even further, let’s take an opportunity to encourage someone to try a new hobby or new book genre or the like.  This does NOT mean getting people a bunch of stuff they have no interest in.  But if someone has said, maybe sheepishly, “You know, I would love to learn how to crochet,” or “I’ve always wanted to learn to play guitar,” now is a great time to get them a crocheting needle and some yarn or a guitar and a how to DVD.  ESPECIALLY if this person is, say, a man more often inclined toward sports and splitting wood than handcrafts and music.  This Advent blog has been all about opening our hearts and minds.  How great would it be if we could help others do this too?!
December 5th 
All right.  I tried to resist but now I have to speak to something that is not a new perspective.  It is sadly an old, old, old perspective.  Sometimes Christmas is seen through the blur of tears.  Sometimes the joyful carols are so discordant with the sorrow in our life, it is painfully jarring.  Christmas makes loss more poignant.  Reminders are everywhere.  There is just a smidge of “not all bad” hidden amongst the desire to smash evergreen trees.  Sometimes poignancy brings tears and sometimes we need to sit and just let them roll down.  Those of my friends and neighbors who need to do this, if you need someone to sit with you give me a call.    
December 6th 
Lately I have been writing a lot about social justice.  It is a topic dear to my heart and one that I have new energy for as I have come to believe that the Kingdom of God amongst us means we are not powerless to change the injustices that surround us.  However, it is time for me to eat some humble pie (not sure I have room with all the holiday baking but I will try).  I have been known to complain about the tirades of vegetarians and environmentalists who like to pick on ranchers.  It is easy to criticize from a safe distance while (literally) keeping your hands clean.  Yet I believe I have been doing a bit of the same.  Recently I have had conversations with folks who are facing some of the justice issues I have been talking and thinking about.  But they are facing them in a much more intimate way than I, fighting these things within their jobs, with little control over the outcome, and with real day to day frustration.  In my defense, if we all were to stand up against social injustice, it would be of benefit to these folks as well.  However, it occurs to me that they may not want to hear someone ranting and raving about it from the outside all the time.  So, I thank these folks for the new perspective they have given me and I will try to keep them in mind in my future rants.  Possibly even in my raves too.

December 7th  
Speaking of pie...Some time ago when I was baking a pie I realized that pie is a great symbol for Advent.  An unbaked pie waiting to go in the oven fills me with anticipation.  I can smell it before it even begins to cook.  I can imagine what it will taste like.  The waiting seems so long.  Advent is all about anticipation: anticipating the celebration of the Christ child and anticipating the time when Christ will come again.  Yet most often the Christ child seems long ago and Christ coming again seems an incomprehensible dream.  However, there are moments in life, flashes of insight, when it all seems so clear and so hopeful.  May you have moments this Advent when the coming of Christ seems as real and near to you as a pie baking in the oven.  

Sorry if I made anyone hungry.  Stay tuned for next weeks Advent Readings From Outside The Box.

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