Hearing those words do you smile? Or do your shoulders slump? This is the time we celebrate love, joy, peace, and hope. But do you catch yourself loving the idea that it’ll all be over soon? Do you get the greatest joy when the list is finished? Is your peace in the form of pecan pie? Do you hope this year might be different?
I’ve already updated my gift list, an EXCEL spreadsheet that includes rows and columns to cover all the possibilities and as EXCEL does, a total at the bottom. Yesterday Kurt got the Christmas bins down and I started decorating. Target’s got the can’t-be-missed specials. Fred Meyer’s got extended hours. Macy’s got more coupons than any store ever—good on the second Tuesday, after the first Monday, between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00, if you use your Macy’s card. You know the drill.
Friends, it’s exhausting! There’s a reason we want it to be over, we want the list finished, we just want a hit of caffeine and a slice of a sugared something. There’s a reason we’re always hoping that this year might be different.
It can be different. My pastor, Robin Dugall, reminded me that the one thing culture hasn’t taken from us is Advent. Every other major holiday, especially Christmas, has been grabbed and marketed to extremes we never could’ve imagined. I’m old enough to remember a simpler time when Christmas preparations involved a Douglas fir and a little tinsel along with a pencil, a sheet of wide-ruled paper and the Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalog.
But Advent is ours. These next four weeks of preparation, this time of reconnection, this annual rite of passage belongs to us. It’s a gift to each one of us from God Himself.
I’ve always thought about holiday celebrations as being something we created, so it was no real surprise when men and women began to take those celebrations to over-the-top, Pinterest-perfect, why-wouldn’t-you, why don’t you, why haven’t you. Think Tim Allen and 80 strings of lights and a poorly wired generator.
Beth Moore reminded us in our study of the Holy Spirit that God was the One Who first created religious celebrations, sacred observances, holy rites for His people. Why? Because He wanted to stay connected with us. He knew that if He didn’t ask us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, we wouldn’t. Our God didn’t just create and move on. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden and has walked with each one of us ever since. His relationship with us was so important, He made us part of a covenant, a covenant that says, “You matter.”
OK—we get that. This advent/Christmas time is a God-thing, so how do we turn down the volume and turn up the love, joy, peace, and hope. How do we make this time of preparation ours, if what you say is true—that it is?
The advent banners in our church are in all-caps. God’s Love (capital L), God’s Joy (capital J), God’s Peace (capital P), and God’s Hope (capital H). Friends, God’s love and joy and peace and hope are big. And if I might add, difficult:
LOVE: Mark 12:30-31
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus adds:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
JOY: John 15:11-12
I have told you this (about keeping God’s commands) so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
And then Jesus adds:
Love each other as I have loved you.
PEACE: 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
Emphasis on all times and every way.
HOPE: Ephesians 1:18
I pray the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.
And Ephesians 4:4
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.
Yep, that’s Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope in all-caps.
So let’s get practical. Remembering the words of Jeremiah, the days are coming when God will fulfill the good promise He made to the people of Israel and Judah, the good promise He made to you and to me. On Christmas we will celebrate the fulfillment of that promise. Today we begin the preparations.