Hope.

It begins today.

Did you catch it, even just a whisper. Or did you catch a full shock of it?

The breath of hope.

Living, breathing hope.

Not the hope of stores that offer sales that bring people in droves, climbing over each other. Stomping each other and shoving each other in the desire to get ahead. Not the hope of bettering themselves and getting ahead. No. Not that hope.

Not the hope that some help is on the way from government or employment or education or…any other work of our hands.

No. Living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:3-9

Advent.  Anticipation.  We are on our way. Set your eyes toward Bethlehem.

God has broken in to our world. The Creator has come into our midst. Living Hope is ours.

Amazing. Indescribable.

Hope.

More than we can imagine.

And He did it in the most amazing way. We never could have dreamed this up. A stable. A young girl. A baby. Take the time to think about this. Take the time to focus, even just for a moment, on what this season is truly about. Take the time to realize what our hope is all about.

Too Much To Ask
by Luci Shaw

It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
flutterings
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction- spirit
with flesh.
who would think it
more than a dream wish?
an implausible, laughable
defense.

And it seems much
too much to ask me
to be part of the
different thing-
God’s shocking, unorthodox,
unheard of Thing
to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory.

Be Still. Wait with Anticipation.

advent

Two more days.  Advent begins on Sunday!

I know that I have been harping on this theme. I have been pestering. I have spent far more time on this this year than ever before, and probably more time on this than any other theme on the blog…at least for writing on one theme over several days. Other than maybe the theme of wonder.

There is a reason.

I need the harping and the pestering myself. Even with all this, I still feel slightly unprepared. I fall into a trap fairly often in my parenting: I want to make things perfect. Pinterest worthy. Picture perfect.

Rarely do they work out that way, and often I become stressed.

So, that is part of the harping as well.  Advent is absolutely, non-negotiably, emphatically NOT about being stressed.

Whatever we do, this season is about stilling ourselves so we can listen and we can wait. Wait with anticipation, and wait with hope. Wait with joy.

Advent is about the awareness of our need for a savior, yes. There is in the history of Advent the element of penitence, but it is more I think about this anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child. And that should be filled with wonder and awe.

In the midst of of struggles with jobs and with life and with raising kids and with being tired and with laundry and with family dynamics and with the turmoil around us in the world…and it is great…we need moments when we focus on wonder and when we focus on hope. When we still ourselves and we wait.

So I pester and I harp and I poke you, and myself, to pause over the next four weeks and pay attention. Do something to make this season stand out.

Light candles. Sing songs. Read poetry.

Be still.

How is this going to look in our family? Steve and I decided we would not ask for the technology to be completely shut off, because that would feel more like punishment to the kids. We are, however, pulling it back. We will only have one tv show a day (and one a week for mom), and the tech time is being cut in half…down to just an hour and half a day. And it has to be off by 6pm.  At 6pm we’ll have dinner and light the Advent candles and we’ll talk and sing and be with each other.

Not drastic, but something to make this season stand out. In the midst of the days there will be other activities that draw our attention toward the coming of the Christ child. We will keep pointing and focusing and making room to think about the wonder of Christmas.

And we will pray that God will meet us in this season. That He will enlarge our imagination and He will infuse this season with His Spirit. I hope you will come along with us!

Here are a few more links with ideas and resources…

Ideas for Adults:

I posted a few links Wednesday  here which will help the adults with some devotionals and focus, and I will be posting poetry each day through Advent here on the blog.

Poet and musician Malcolm Guite  last year posted sonnets from his book Sounding the Seasons. Each of the seven sonnets is accompanied by art.

SimpleLiving has a fantastic list of ideas on ways to make your Advent season and Christmas stand out from the commercialized season it has become.

Ideas for Families:

Baby Steps for Celebrating Advent

No Panic Advent – with a bunch of great book suggestions

Simple Kids – Great ideas on how to make Advent simple and kid-friendly

Homeschooled-kids has an $8 printable packet with activities and crafts and lots of ideas.

The Extraordinary Thing is Coming…

“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin b​ows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton.

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.

You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.”

 -Frederick Buechner  “Advent”

Yes.  This is what I am trying to convey in my own clumsy way. Advent is not something that belongs only to certain strains of the Church. Advent is not some ritual which aims at adding burden to our lives.

Advent is the opportunity to concentrate. The opportunity to change our focus, and we need this all the more in the midst of a season that screams at us constantly. The Christmas season has become so filled with noise, we need the reason and the opportunity…and the push…to be silent more.

We need the tradition and the ritual and the rhythm of Advent to bring wonder into our midst and to teach us to sit with that wonder.

God made flesh.

Incarnation.

Redemption.

I know that I am spending much time leading up to Advent pestering you about this tradition. No, I have not forgotten Thanksgiving, and I promise I will pause the Advent pestering to spend some time thinking about Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, though…Advent takes preparation. I have so often been caught by surprise that Advent is beginning, that I enter the season feeling flustered. Or worse, I simply decide I have failed and it’s not worth trying to jump in.

So I pester.  Advent begins this Sunday.

You may not want to make a big deal of Advent, but I encourage you to take a look around at some of the resources that would help at least get your toes wet. Again, The Village Church has an excellent Advent Guide which will have sermons connected and even a Spotify playlist of music to go along. They have done a great job of including ideas for ways to bring your kids into the understanding of Advent.

Tomorrow I’ll post mainly resources and links. For now, read again Buechner’s words above and begin preparing your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

Okay, I know I am repeating one more article, but again it says what I want to say. Part of the wonder of Christmas, and part of the wonder of the Advent season, is story. I have a multitude of friends who enjoy participating in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. This year Mr. Creative, our middle boy, has been pestering me for an Elf on the Shelf. He is at that precarious age where he knows Santa is not real, and he knows these things are imagination and play…and yet he is not quite ready to give them up. He doesn’t want to say outloud that all of this was fairy tale and play.

So, we’ll pick up an Elf. And we will heartily play with our imagination that this little doll can come to life at night and we’ll try to keep the cats from eating him. And hopefully we will expand our imaginations a bit, and we will mark the season by joy and by laughter mixed with the awe and amazement of the true Story of the season. All of these other stories are truly just play…and they pale as we begin to talk of the God who created the heavens and the earth, and then walked that earth.  Here are some thoughts again from last year:

December 22, 2012    Enlarge that Imagination

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.

Atmosphere of wonder, not punishment…

I wrote yesterday about Advent, just touching on the idea that we will do something different during this season.  I know the whole concept of Advent is still a bit strange to many who did not grow up in liturgical churches. We are fairly ignorant of the rhythm of the church calendar in the other denominations.

Advent begins this Sunday, December 1st, and it ends on Christmas Eve (well, actually I think it officially ends on the Feast of Epiphany…my truly liturgical friends will have to help me out with that).  You can find all kinds of resources just by searching Advent 2013. Loads of places have devotionals, and of course there are a frightening array of Advent Calendar apps  you could download, including a zombie one.  Yep, even Advent is commercialized and sought out for entertainment and profit value.

Don’t let that stop you. Ignore the noise and focus on the benefit.

We are still deciding what our Advent season will look like; we’ve talked about shutting down technology altogether. TV, iPods, iPads, FaceBook. That’s fairly drastic, and there is a slight danger there. See, the goal is, especially with kiddos, to create an atmosphere and a frame of mind that is focused on the true Reality of Christmas.

Creating the space and the environment where we can think about the enormity of God-made-flesh, of Incarnation. Of all that that means, and all that that holds for us.

Of Hope.

Of Gospel. 

Of Truth.

Of Awe.

What we don’t want to do is take away all the fun and make an atmosphere that is more resembling punishment than adoration. The memories of Christmas that we are hoping for are a rhythm of Advent that sets this season apart from the rest of the year, but not because we simply took the toys away and asked the kids to contemplate the nativity set.

That won’t cut it.

Instead…we set aside a bit of the normal and increase the amount of wonder.  We string twinkling lights that make us smile, and we use them to talk about joy. We play with the nativity set and talk about the journey of wisemen and shepherds, of Mary and Joseph. We light candles and read Scripture. We enhance the normal with extraordinary.  We minimize the technology so we can hear the wonder of the simplicity.

A star leading shepherds. Wise men coming to worship. Birth of a King.

Okay, maybe not so simple. Still…wonder.

So, over the next few days until Advent begins I’ll continue to give some ideas, and I’ll also be reposting some articles from last year. I’m going to pester you now, and remind you to make some plans for wonder in the midst of the shopping and the cooking and the school plays. They can be wonder as well.

Sometimes we need a little help in finding the wonder and in being intentional about something, especially for an extended period, so each day I will also include a few links with ideas about how to celebrate and engage in Advent.

Just one link today, but if you follow this link, you will find a variety of resources:

Christine Sine has a fantastic list of resources. Grab a cup of coffee and spend some time reading through her Advent pages.

It’s coming….are you ready?

“So, are you Catholic?”

Okay, I have to back up and tell a little of what happened before that question, but you have to hear that the question came with just the slightest inclination of a sneer. Just that hint, well, maybe more than a hint, of judgment.

Seriously, I mean, are you?

Here’s the story. The boys go to tutorial on Tuesdays (maybe I should begin referring to the boys as “the Trio”, that would work well with the Tuesday Tutorial…) so Miss Maddie and I stopped off at a small local coffee shop. This place is one of my favorites. The owner actually built the shop around the cabin has been in his family for ages and the wood floors date back to the 1800’s, I believe. The wood panelling in the main room is from the 70’s and his dad put it there, so it stays.

This is not Starbuck’s. This is a local spot, with local folks who stay for hours and are regulars. Maddie was playing a few toys that were there and I was talking with two men who asking about her. The questions turned eventually to if she was caught up in the “tech toys”.  I think they were pleased to see that she wasn’t playing on the iPad or other instrument at the moment and was having fun exploring.

I told her she knew her way around the computer and most of the other toys, and that like most families we were pretty tied to our technology. I just in passing mentioned that we had been thinking about taking a break from technology for Advent.

Advent.

That did it.  They didn’t hear what I said about technology any more, but they heard that one word and it labelled me in their minds.

“So, are you Catholic?

Honestly, it took me a second to figure out why on earth they were asking me about my denominational background. Then he clarified, “Advent. You do that stuff?”  When I told him I was not Catholic, but we that as a family we try to respect the season of Advent and let it stand apart, he asked why.

While I was trying to formulate a response…and still engaging Maddie…something else happened that surprised me.

“Our church is celebrating Advent.” This man is a pastor who studies at the coffee shop. I see him there often, although I’ve only talked to him a little because he is usually fairly focused on his studying. “We’re Baptist, but we observe elements of the Church Calendar. Advent. Reformation Sunday. You don’t have to be Catholic.”

That was that. We both simply said that the celebration of “Advent” meant to focus for an extended time on Christ through the Christmas season. Then we left it at that. It is not that the other men were mean, they just had always associated Advent with a part of the Church they disregard.

That’s dangerous…we miss out sometimes when we do that.

I’m thankful that the understanding of Advent seems to have spread beyond just liturgical churches. We need the rhythm of the Church Calendar. We need the help in the hectic pace of our lives to focus.

With Thanksgiving coming late this year, Advent starts immediately after, and that is coming quickly. Steve and I are praying about shutting down the technology for the season of Advent. Shutting out some of the noise, and some of the frustration of having to tell the kids to get off for the ninth time.

Shutting down some of the input so that our focus can turn to the truth of the Season.  I don’t know about you, but we need help sometimes. Sometimes it takes more than a few hours to draw our focus to Christ during Christmas, or even a few days when school is done and Christmas Day is near. Sometimes a few weeks is what is needed.

So, no, I’m not Catholic. There are some things we can learn from each other in the church, though. We can learn a bit about slowing down and focusing during this season.

It’s almost here. Are you ready? Are you making ready?

The decorations may up and the presents bought…but how are we preparing ourselves spiritually to focus during the onslaught of advertising and “want” during this season? Google Advent 2013 and there are numerous resources. We are going to use the one from  Matt Chandler’s church, The Village Church. 

I’ll write more about what this actually looks like in the coming days. Although I won’t be writing during the Advent Season, since, you know, I won’t be on the computer. We have to work out the details of how we make this work in a way that it doesn’t feel like punishment to the kids. That would be the worst…to have the idea of Advent tied to misery. Nope. That is not what it is about. It’s all about anticipation and hope and focus.

Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.