Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Dec. 19, 2019
Advent encouragement for the hectic holiday season
By Chaplain Hunter Silides
“Sometimes people walk right through a mystery and do not even know it is there. This time of year you will see people hurrying in the malls, buying things and doing this and that, but they miss the Mystery of Christmas. They don’t know how to get ready to enter a mystery, or maybe they forgot.”
Jerome Berryman, the Complete Guide to Godly Play, Vol. 3, Advent 1
Anna Harmon and I have been talking with our students in spiritual development about Advent since the beginning of December. Using the beautiful, natural wood materials for Godly Play, we have been journeying with the prophets, the holy family, the shepherds, and the Magi towards Bethlehem. We repeat the carefully crafted stories with reverence. The children look on with combined recognition and expectation. They know these stories, have experienced their power before, and yet, because these children are constantly changing and growing, these ancient stories are continually made new. Even to us, who have told and retold these stories countless times, our students show us new depths of the Mystery of Christmas every time we tell the stories. They may be ancient, but they are never old!
One might assume, in light of all this reverent telling of sacred stories, that the story teller herself wouldn’t be caught “hurrying in malls, buying things and doing this and that.” But I have been, from time to time this month, quite close to “missing the Mystery of Christmas” altogether! If you imagined that repeating the sacred mystery of Christmas several times a week would protect me from the bustle and rush, then you would be wrong! I am as susceptible to marketing and Christmas music in the grocery stores as the next person. I have half my lights up and the other half on the stairs at home. I can’t find my shoes in the morning under unwrapped gifts that I have “hidden” in my closet. As a result, I can find neither shoes nor gifts when I want them. The Mystery of Christmas itself might be in that closet of mine, and at this rate I wouldn’t find it until I went digging around for my flip flops in June.
As with so many aspects of parenting and teaching children, the preparation can overwhelm the desired outcome. In order to provide the kind of Christmas we want our children to have, parents can prepare ourselves into such a frenzy that by the end of the day on Dec. 25 we are exhausted to the point of being catatonic! If our goal at the beginning of Advent was to be focused more on presence than presents, that brain-dead slump we can fall into after a flurry of holiday entertaining can feel like a reproach to our good intentions.
But there is hope for those of us who “fail” at mindful, holiday calm. In fact, there is much more than hope. There is fulfillment! The very message of Christmas is that the Mystery we are trying to prepare for is more powerful than we ever imagined. Christmas, in the end, isn’t about what we do at all. Christmas is about what God does. God enters into our lives in the messiest bits, with a message of forgiveness. The baby is born, not under glittering holiday lights, but in a darkened stable. He is laid not in the guest bed made up with festive flannel reindeer sheets, but in the straw of the manger. Mary and Joseph were frantic in their preparations for the birth of their child, but they weren’t any more ready on Christmas Eve than I am going to be. Jesus came anyway.
He comes every year. Ready or not, the Mystery of Christmas breaks into our messy lives, dawns upon the cluttered closets of our hearts. Christ’s forgiveness touches all who desire it. We don’t need to be fully actualized, Bible-quoting, prayer warriors before we can receive Him. The only real preparation we need to do, I remember every year, is simply to wait for Him, to want Him. In our society where the independent individual is the ideal, we over-complicate what it means to get ready to receive the help and forgiveness that the Christ Child brings. Maybe we knew once and forgot. To prepare ourselves for the Mystery of Christmas is simply to remember that there is such a thing and to watch for it. As long as you are looking, you can’t miss it.
So, maybe we can relax this Advent. On His way to us is One whose only desire is to love and save us. We don’t have to perfect ourselves before He gets here! We know this story. We have experienced its power before, and yet, because every year we are older and have had another year’s worth of experience, we can hear it in a new way. If we prepare by simply seeking them, new depths of the Mystery of Christmas will reveal themselves to us. We aren’t loved by God because we have made ourselves lovable. God loves us because God is love and made us out of himself. Every year he sends Himself to us again, in the form of an irresistible baby who comes to us in the midst of our mess to bless us. Seek, and you will find Him!
Have a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas!
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