by Pastor Jerry Donovan
If you were to spend a moment daydreaming about your idea for a perfect Christmas, what pictures come to mind? Pews filled to overflowing with the faithful? Gorgeous music and candlelight? A family gathering without quarrels, and flooded instead by a sense of Christmas good cheer? Healing for a loved one who is ill? Time with someone you miss? What?
Recently I was reading the Gospel text from Matthew 3:1-12, and it struck me how hard it is to hear John the Baptist’s declaration of repentance during Advent. Truth be told, repentance is rarely an easy sell as it is usually associated with feelings of guilt, of not doing enough or not measuring up. So John’s blunt message, barely mentioning forgiveness or grace, even if it’s near Easter Sunday is hard to hear. That problem is really compounded here and now during Advent.
While the season of Advent was planned as a season to prepare for the arrival of the Christ child in earnest repentance and humility, those days are pretty much over. Today, Advent is a time of preparing a Christmas celebration that is about Christ’s birth, but it’s also dominated by parties, feasts, presents, family gatherings, and all the rest. Which is, of course, part of the challenge. Say anything about repentance and it feels like you’re scolding people for their lack of observance for a proper Advent and Christmas.
So I want to suggest a different approach? What if you could have more, more peace, more joy, more grace, more Christmas? Let’s dream bigger dreams and hope grander hopes? That’s more realistic, right?
What I am thinking about will take three steps. First, take just two minutes to make a “to do” list to jot down the various errands you need and want to get done by Christmas day. Maybe it’s shopping for gifts or attending the kids’ school Christmas concert or getting ready for the holiday feast or noting the times of the Christmas Eve services or making end-of-the-year charitable contributions.
After you complete your list take a minute to daydream about what you hope Christmas will be like. What kind of day do you want to have? More than that, what kind of relationships do you want to be a part of? Even more, what kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and in the future? Surely our hopes aren’t limited to our immediate wants and needs but include our larger families, communities, and world.
Now with your “Christmas hope” in mind, I invite you to “work backwards” and review your “to-do” list and circle those chores that help provide for those deep hopes and longings about your life and world. Maybe this year Advent can be a time to put things in perspective for all of us, to channel our energy and resources to those things that matter most to us, to our families and communities, and to God.