I remember how I felt as a child when Christmas Eve would roll around every year. It was magical. In the earlier years of my life as my family and I would travel across town from one family gathering to the next, I would look up at the sky and think to myself, “I wonder if I’ll see the sleigh this year.” As I grew into my pre-teen and teenage years and was began focusing more on the religious significance of Christmas as a Christian, I started paying attention to the stars in the sky. “How brilliant that it was a star that led the wisest of the wise to the baby.” Whether my thoughts were motivated by Santa or Jesus, Christmas has always been magical. It still is.
As a Christian minister and leader today, I’m drawn into Christmas even more because of the holy season of Advent. Churches with a strong liturgical thread celebrate the season of Advent, four weeks that help us prepare to enter into the Christmas season. The Sundays of Advent have themes like joy, hope, love, and peace — all themes that make sense when thinking about the Christian story and the story of Christmas. These are themes that not only beckon us to look back at the story of a baby but to look at now and even ahead as we anticipate a world where joy, hope, love, and peace prevail. We’re not there yet, but Advent draws us into creating this kind of world.
Advent derives from the Latin and means “coming.” It is about a God who came to us in the presence of a baby. It is about a God who comes to us now in Scripture, meals, community, our every day lives. And it is about a God who will come again. It asks us to figure out what we are preparing for in our own lives and asks us to slow down even in a busy season such as this to pay attention to this question.
Ultimately, for me, Advent is about three W’s — waiting, watching, and wonder. None of these are easy to come by in our technology-driven, fast-paced living, complex lives. But what would happen if we stepped back from these complexities each day leading up to Christmas for 15 minutes? Maybe nothing. But it’s worth a shot. What would happen if in those 15 minutes we spent time writing a gratitude list? Or maybe we spent that time in prayer, meditation, and/or reflection. What about 15 minutes of silence, something hard to come by at any point during the year.
Go ahead, shut your office door, turn off your music, silence your phone, put the screen of your laptop down, hide the shopping list and spend fifteen minutes in quiet. When’s the last time you did that?
I don’t know if any of this will work, but it seems to me worth giving a try. And if you find a way to sustain it over the course of these weeks leading up to Christmas it might become a habit. A habit like this has the potential to help us know that we are not alone. To help us know that we are responsible for more than just ourselves and our own family, but we are responsible for our community. And, also, that our community is responsible for us and our family.
In this holy season of Advent, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I invite you to step back from it all for a moment. Practice paying attention. It may help you see what you’ve been waiting on or watching for. It may just lead you down the path of wonder. This is a magical season; may the joy of it be yours now and always.
Rev. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University. You can find him running in the city of Oxford about three times a week.