Another Advent

There’s not much been going on over here this week… we are all waiting for Covid-19 to be over and life to get back to some semblance of “normal”. And yet, all this waiting reminded me of advent and the whole idea of anticipation. So, this week you get a throwback to post published a while ago on Advent and the idea of waiting. Enjoy.

image by Kelly Sikkema (unsplash)

I hate waiting.  I hate waiting in line, I hate waiting for my food to be cooked, I hate waiting for the kids to get out of school.  I just don’t like sitting around with nothing to do when something else should be happening.  I bring books or snacks or my phone or a crochet project on long car rides because my hands need to be doing something (or else I crash into a nap… which is a whole other story).

So, when I discovered that the real meaning of Advent was anticipatory waiting… I wasn’t too keen.  I don’t think many of us are good at waiting.  Have you noticed that radio stations are playing Christmas music already?!  The stores have been in Christmas mode since the day after Halloween!  The marketers out there certainly don’t like waiting!  They want us to be spending our dough faster and faster these days… no waiting!  Order now!  Direct ship!  Buy online!  Available 24 hours, seven days a week!  

Let’s step back for a minute. In case you are not familiar with the term “advent”… it is a traditional practice of the Christian church to anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas, and then, in turn, His final return to earth.  Similar to the practice of Lent before Easter, it gives us a chance to slow down, to think and ponder, and to hope for the future.  It’s something I have to work on… this waiting.

My first exposure to advent was those cardboard chocolate calendars.

My first exposure to advent was those cardboard chocolate calendars.  The ones with the little doors you would open every day from December first until the 25th.  Back then, I didn’t understand what it meant… I simply enjoyed the treats everyday!  Later, we began to celebrate the four Sundays of advent at our church.  It was then, that I understood the symbolism, the tradition, and the true meaning of the practice.   It is something I have come to cherish as an adult.  It’s a discipline that that reminds me to slow down, to appreciate my family, to encourage my church family, and to rejoice in the season — and not to be so caught up in the rush of the “stuff”.  It forces me to focus each week on learning to wait.  To anticipate.  To revel in the beauty of hope.

Here’s what I have learned about the traditional advent symbolism:  it begins with an evergreen wreath… the symbol of a circle of eternity.  Our Christ is timeless.  He’s been around much longer than the babe in the manger.  Surrounding the wreath are four candles and one central candle.  Each candle is lit on the four Sundays of Advent, and culminate with the lighting of the white, central candle, which is lit on Christmas eve.  This central candle is sometimes referred to as the Christ candle… and represents His purity and the sacrifice He made for us on the cross.  

The first candle is purple.  It represents “hope” and the prophecies that Isaiah spoke about when He described the coming of our special Christmas baby.  The second purple candle represents love, and is sometimes referred to as the Bethlehem candle or the manger candle.  So much love happened in that lowly stable…. I imagine my own beloveds and how the whole world fell away the moment they were born and I saw them for the first time face to face.   Can you imagine Mary’s first glance at her special baby?  Yup, love for sure.  The next candle is pink… and represents joy.   It is the shepherd’s candle.  It embodies the joy and celebration the shepherds must have felt when they were given the good news that a Saviour had been born!  The last candle is also purple and reminds us to be peaceful.   This “angel” candle points us to worship, to reflection, and to remember that the season is not about gifts under a tree, but the ultimate gift given to us.  The One the angels were made for… simply to worship for eternity.  

So… as you prepare for your Christmas season, and you rush out here and there, be reminded of the advent tradition of waiting.  Take time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas… Christ’s coming.  Anticipate through hope, love, joy and peace, and the pure and holy sacrifice that Christ paid for you.  May you be blessed, my beloveds, as we journey towards the holidays together.   Take time to rejoice in waiting.  Oh… it shall be no easy task!  Especially if there are Christmas cookies in the oven! But we can practice it together, shall we?

Want to learn more about Advent?  Check out my Pinterest Boards for more ideas on DIY calendars, symbols, studies and more!

Death and the Wind

Well. It’s been quite the week. Our “new normal” of self isolation continues, much like all of you. It seems we’ve had quite a lot to ponder over these weeks — but not much to share. I’m finding it hard to be inspired when nothing new is happening. Perhaps that’s a cop-out because there should always be something new, right? Never stop learning and all that. Should take my own advice sometimes! So here goes: As I write these words, the wind is howling outside. Empty and angry, yet cleansing, in a way. It seems to be clearing the world of debris. My poor, old house creaks and groans as it gets shoved around along with the trees outside. My windows are rattling. It’s grey and overcast, and today has been a quiet, slow one after our makeshift festivities and family chats over the internet, remnants of an unusual Easter weekend.

It’s supposed to be a season of rebirth and resurrection. Honestly, I had planned to write about growth this week…. but it seems like I am stuck back on Good Friday and am in the limbo between it and resurrection Sunday. Death seems to be on my mind. Which sounds horrid and morbid and is a terrible title for a blog post. It evokes images of heavy metal thrasher bands and dark images from gothic artists. So my apologies if you came looking for some bright and cheery words of encouragement today. Perhaps we will get there by the end of my 700 or so words.

There seems to be plenty of depressing reports in the news these days during this world wide pandemic. Current data shows over 119 000 deaths as a result of the Coronavirus across our planet. People are dying at an alarming rate. Then, of course, there are unrelated deaths: people are still starving, people are still getting older, people are still without proper healthcare, clean water and hygiene. Hate is still part of our lives. Depression and mental health is still running a muck — maybe even more so — as we are cooped up and forced to face our own thoughts and fears. Our personal demons are joining forces with some very real ones. And in many places, fear and chaos are becoming their leaders.

I’m hearing stories of good, hard working people getting knocked down by the overwhelming death toll. Refrigerated box cars becoming makeshift morgues. Mass graves being dug for the homeless and unnamed. Bodies are literally being dumped on the streets in some parts of the world. Day after day it’s all we see and hear about. It’s easy to see how those on the frontlines are quickly becoming bogged down by the pain and sorrow of it all. And then, how do you mourn? How can you comfort one another from a proper “social distance”? What happens when you cannot say “goodbye”? Closure is difficult from your phone screen. We have etiquette and social graces for death. We say the right things and send flowers and cards. But for so many? What is the response? I don’t know either.

I’m listening to the wind again. Trying, like Nicodemus in John 3, to figure out how God will use all this for His good. He will — because He loves us. It says so in that very same chapter: John 3:16. One of the first verses you learn. Even the football players and sports fans know it. It tells us the story of that fateful day so many centuries ago. The wind was there on Good Friday, too. It shook the houses and the windows rattled as the sky grew dark. The wind eventually will calm down again. Life will carry on and we will once again see that Hope of Easter Sunday. We have the Hope. It’s just a little bit hidden right now. Death was conquered permanently on that weekend. Have you been like Nicodemus, my friend? Trying to figure out what on Earth is going on when people speak of new birth, resurrection and that hope in this dark world? Why do we celebrate Easter weekend? Because of Faith in what is unseen — like the wind. We cannot predict it, like the curves on the covid 19 stats wall… or even death itself. It’s beyond our control. Faith is that big step into the unknown. Where the wind will then carry you.

How Much is Too Much? Learning to Live a More Balanced Life

Finally! The weather and my work schedule has co-operated enough to allow me some clean up time at the house! I am afraid that it is only a “lick and a promise” though (as my mom would say). The bathrooms are clean and I’ve wiped all the counters, but I really would like to get in deep and give all the rooms a good make over. I am beginning to look around and say “wow…we have a lot of “stuff”!” As I try to live a little more “green”, I am beginning to see just how much we have accumulated over the years. We have been blessed enough to be able to buy what we want… and we have. I have a lot of high hopes for things… projects and crafts I want to tackle, furniture I want to refinish, new things I want to learn, and often I can’t say no to a great deal at the thrift store! Time and energy simply get the better of me and my best laid plans get pushed aside to the back of the basement… again. I sound like those hoarders on the documentaries… I wanted to, but just didn’t. Then somehow the piles begin to take over.

The truth is, most of our society has become this way hasn’t it? We always are dreaming bigger, wanting more, and pushing the limits. Even the minimalists are driving forward with their agenda of quality not quantity. My friend describes it as the “new piety”. If I live this way with these things, then you should too…and if you don’t, then you are doing it wrong. If this lifestyle, or this diet, or this gadget, or this, or that, is the way I like, then it must be the best for everyone. And so we must accept it. But how much is too much? Somewhere along the line we have lost balance. Myself included.

I tend to be an all or nothing kinda gal… ask my friends… I love a good project. A task that I can focus all my attention on. Therein lies the problem, though… it takes all my attention. The rest of the world begins to fall down all around me but my blinders prevent me from seeing it. I think I’m not the only one with such tunnel vision, though. So much of our world is “micro-managed” with minority groups driving home very specific opinions on very specific topics. Even our careers and educational paths have taken on this micro vision. Health care, too, has become so finite. We see one specialist for one problem and then have to see three others for the side effects. It can be a little frustrating. We become “specialists”– but masters of nothing.

Photo from link below

We recently saw a film called “The Biggest Little Farm“… a documentary that followed a Californian couple who gave up their city life to try their hand at a new wave of farming. (I think the hubby suggested it to tame my want for chickens…which didn’t work, but I digress). Under capable (yet slightly radical) mentorship, they decided to diversify their farm. They planted a variety of fruit trees instead of one crop, and varied their livestock to share in the load. The idea was balance. Their mentor assured them, that in time, the land itself would balance out, that their farm would flourish with the ebb and flow of predator and prey and nutrient renewal. Science tells us this is true, yet, I couldn’t help but muse how spiritual the message was. We are just finishing a study of the gospel of Mark in our small group. It’s fascinating to me how the gospels show us this idea of Jesus’ perfect balance between a focused plan and the bigger picture.

Christ, the messiah, knew He was coming to earth to fulfill a very specific purpose. He had a goal. A set task. Yet in the height of His ministry he still was conscious that He needed to take time aside for self care, reflection and prayer. He healed many, yet not all. He planned for the future, but often didn’t know where He would sleep at night. He had no means of salary, but never seemed to go hungry. He surrounded Himself with both women and men, with rich and poor, with educated and outcasts. There was no false piety, there was simply a message. Jesus didn’t promise that His way was the easiest, either. Being a Jesus follower did not guarantee the easy road, nor does it now. But it does bring profound hope.

I think, it is this hope that we are all struggling to fill with our stuff, our visions, our drive for the ultimate. We want our futures to be sealed with security. I too, struggle with the future unknown. I’m always looking for something new… “just in case”. That’s the delight of the faith journey though… it’s a journey. A continual path to Heaven that starts when we take the first step out in faith. It then becomes a winding path of checks and balances, but ever encompasses that Hope that guides us onward. So how much is too much? When we become so blinded by all the stuff that we can’t see the forest for the trees. When we begin to lose hope because we have not taken the time to get back on the right path, or the path is blocked by a narrowly focused tunnel. We need a little mix of all to keep the balance. I’m not there yet, either, but learning… anyone need some glass jars? I think I have too many…