Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent: Week 1, Hope

What is Advent? It is four week of heart preparation for celebrating Jesus' birth on December 25, Christmas. Historically, each week of Advent begins on Sunday, and follows the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. If you are inspired to reflect or take action after reading this post, leave a comment to share about it!

Prepare the way for God, make the road ready. All people will see God's salvation! Luke 3:4, 6

That verse is our kids' memory verse for week 1 of Advent: Hope. Signs that the Christmas season has arrived keep popping up at our house: nativities, advent candles, and a fir tree. All the excitement keeps Abigail awake at night, just pondering everything. Playtime dress-up is re-enactment of Gabriel's visit to Mary, or Mary caring for baby Jesus. Whew! It can wear me out, all this rehearsal and re-rehearsal of one story. It has me thinking about the nature of "preparation." What does it mean for us, now, to 'prepare the way for God'?

Advent wreaths and Maïte Roche calendrier de l'avent

Prepare the way for God

In any context, or with any individual to whom I'm trying to share God, I keep coming back to prayer. If my heart isn't open to talking about spiritual things, let alone Jesus' God-Man nature, then prayer and the Holy Spirit's working are likely to be the key. There have been three specific contexts in my life in the 10 years since I became a Christian when prayer has been the only breakthrough -- I had a hard time accepting something rationally, or changing a habit, and prayer powerfully changed my mind and follow through. Looking back at the Holy Spirit acting through prayer grows my HOPE when considering some walls that seem to have been erected around hearts and minds.
Jesus says, Ask, and it will be given to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks will receive. He who searches will find. The door will be opened to the one who knocks. Matthew 7:7-8
The second context is everyday kindness. My kids' first encounters with faith in God are what they see demonstrated in me. But it isn't enough to simply be patient, serving, and loving -- I have to also articulate where that kindness comes from. Anyone can be kind, Christ-follower or not. What makes my or Nick's forbearing parenting different is God's abundant love overflowing in my heart. He fills it up, he gives what I cannot give on my own. This is a great HOPE for a parent! I know how lacking I really am, and how often I fail. An archaic meaning for hope goes deeper than 'anticipation': hope used to also mean 'to trust.' When my kids can trust me, then their hearts are being prepared to trust God.

A third way that our family is prepping ourselves and others to be open to God is by literally opening our home to people who are not yet friends. Heaven will be full of all peoples, all cultures, all languages, all interests! To say it another way, if I just invite my inner circle, or home team, into "my" space, what room is there for the Other? What room can I make for those who are not like me? It takes some trust to put oneself out on a line relationally, but I'm HOPEFUL, because it takes some trust to come into my home when we're just acquaintances.
Jesus says, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If any of you hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with you. And you will eat with me. Revelation 3:20
What does "opening our home" look like this year? Hopefully, a neighborhood happy hour will gather some neighbors! Our family is also attending parties that will likely not be entirely safe for Evan, given his egg allergy. To walk into others' homes when Nick and I know that our vigilance of Evan will have to be high, that is taking some trust on our part.

Cookie decor... and eating in Evan's case; cranberry popcorn garland!

Saint Nicholas

His saint day is celebrated on Dec 6. We teach our kids about how the bishop Nicholas responded to others' needs out of the overflow of Jesus' love in his heart. Because Nicholas loved Jesus so much, he grew to love all others and meet their needs in love and by defending them against oppression. Much of what we know of his generosity is simply 'attributed' to Nicholas; he did publicly fight for things like lower taxation

. His giving clearly pointed back to Jesus, because Nicholas encouraged others to talk to and to ask Jesus about their deepest longings and needs; any act of charity that Nicholas did was either in secret so that the recipient could rejoice in God's provision, or he publicly and firmly announced in his faith in Jesus while defending the disenfranchised.

Last year, we wrote cards to someone who brings HOPE into others' lives. It's rather symbolic, and doesn't involve much self-giving. Maybe we'll continue that this year. I'm not sure - do you have ideas? Ideally, what we do on Dec 6th would be a hands on project for the kids that meets a need and brings HOPE.

If you are inspired to reflect or take action after reading this post, leave a comment to share about it!

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