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Yesterday marked the third Sunday of Advent, and at church in the morning the Advent readings focussed on the theme of “joy.”
That theme was reinforced – later in the day – in two ways for me. Last evening, the children’s Sunday School pageant was an occasion of much joy – as we watched the little ones and young people present their take on the real meaning of Christmas. Then, after the concert, as church family and friends gathered for cookies and tea, I spoke with a beautiful friend who is two-thirds of the way through chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Her radiant smile and calm demeanor testified to the truth of her words: “God has been with me,” she said. “Every step of the way.”
Since then, I’ve been mulling over what real joy is to me, and I’ve concluded that Robert Schuller is right. “Joy,” he observed, “is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.”
I think this video – which proclaims “Glory to God in the highest!” typifies that emotion beautifully.
“When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.”
- Saint Augustine
I don’t love decorating for Christmas.
I know, I know. That makes me a bit of a Scrooge. But the whole process of hauling dozens of boxes down from the rafters in the garage, unpacking all of that stuff, trying to find places for everything, putting the empty boxes back in the garage and then repeating the exercise – in reverse – mere weeks later can make me tired just thinking about it.
But besides the sheer work involved, there’s another reason I’d rather do almost anything than “deck the halls”; when God was handing out talents, he neglected to give me the decorating one.
Oh, I appreciate the beautiful rooms and settings other people seem able to create so effortlessly. And I marvel at their ability to create them. But after trying, repeatedly, over the years to cultivate a look of elegance or style that always winds up more like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” than a Better Homes and Gardens one, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I’ll never achieve the latter effect.
Still, decorating for the holidays is important to my family. So each year, I put on a brave face and some Christmas music, and psych myself up for a day of working with the myriad ornaments and bits of “Made in Singapore” or “Made in Taiwan” paraphernalia we’ve accumulated over the years, together with even more “Made in Pre-School, Elementary School or Sunday School” treasures. All in an attempt to create a festive atmosphere.
And somehow – though the designer look definitely eludes us – we do manage to surround ourselves with Christmas cheer. I realize it when looking at a favourite item conjures up a warm memory, or when we recall the stories that will long be told about some cherished ornament. And I know I am blessed.
Still, after spending all day decorating yesterday, it took sitting in church this morning to remind me of the reason for such preparations. The reminder rang loudly and clearly through the words of a Christmas carol.
“Let every heart prepare him room.”
As I sang it, it occurred to me that decorating is all part of the Advent tradition of preparing our homes. But the carol entreats every heart to “prepare him room,” not to “prepare him rooms.” More important than preparing our houses – is preparing our hearts – for the coming of our Saviour.
Suddenly I was struck by the irony: our Saviour was born in a stable. No Better Homes and Gardens surroundings awaited the infant Jesus. But a loving family did. A family who no doubt celebrated his arrival with joy, and loved Him deeply as he grew.
Hearts – if not a home – perfectly prepared.