Growing up with parents serving in ministry as Salvation Army officers, raising our children in that church and then becoming part of its ordained clergy, Christmas has had a unique rhythm.
During my childhood, Christmas work started shortly after school did. Daddy began the task of securing locations to place the red kettles during the Christmas season. In those days, most retailers were glad to extend space on their sidewalk to participate in the annual work of helping others. Today, it’s a trying challenge.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day were especially busy for my parents as they went about the many details involved in making sure any family in need had a holiday meal for their family and toys for their kids.
Our children were old enough to help in the work when became officers (ordained clergy). They helped bag toys and our son helped driving the routes to pick up the red kettles. Days were long but rewarding,
What we didn’t have growing up was Advent. It’s so easy to get lost in the doing, especially when the doing is for others.
Advent was introduced in our worship services when I was a young adult. Our officers/pastors were busy Monday – Saturday with all the things the Salvation Army does at Christmas but they made a point to include this time of reflection in our weekly worship gatherings.
Because of the leadership of others Advent was part of our worship from the start of our ministry.
When our ministry was focused on men dealing with substance abuse issues Advent became an opportunity to teach about this practice as we shared worship together.
We didn’t always follow the traditional themes of Advent. To be honest, it was years before I realized there were traditional themes. Instead, since I planned our worship meetings, I chose themes like Believe, Reveal and Child of Wonder.
In a recent essay from the author, Sarah Bessey, she writes this year she’s following traditional Carmelite themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing.
So often I’ve locked myself into thinking there’s one way or, right way. The last few years have helped me understand if we are earnest in our worship there is freedom to go beyond tradition.
I’ve done that with an art journaling companion to Advent this year. Using the refrain of the carol Joy to the World, I’ve written a reflective guide to making room for the coming of the Christ Child in our lives.
You can purchase the guide on our website or you can work along with me on the blog. We are following the traditional themes of hope, peace, joy and love.
Week one starts with the simple question:
What do we need to let go of to make room for hope?
As I consider that question I think about the expectations I have, for myself and others. They take up a lot of mental space and often crowd out the room needed for joy.
What about you? What is taking up too much room in your life and squeezing hope right out?
Where have we looked for hope? In our marriage or family? Perhaps we put most of our hope in our job and what it provides for us.
Will you consider exploring these questions and journaling them over the next few days? Grab a new notebook or start a new page on your computer and journal your thoughts about the times you feel hopeless. What do you need to let go to free your heart to hope again? Where do you need to focus your hopes?
Life is busy. It’s too hard to write some of these words down. It’s not easy to admit you’ve felt forgotten and without hope. I get it. You aren’t alone. I often wrestle with these feelings. It’s why I wrote this guide.
We’ll come back in a few days and add a simple art project to give us some visual cues to put hope back in our life.
These words from the Psalmist remind us to wait with hope. Hope now. Hope always.
This carol recalls the hope that is found in Christ Jesus.
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world1 rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.
Enjoy this video of Kari Jobe singing a song of great hope, O Holy Night.