When our astonishingly talented and creative worship planning team sits down to think about Advent, we like to consider the season as a whole. We ask ourselves a lot of questions. What do we hope will happen? What do we hope people will experience in worship? What are the particular needs of our congregation this year?
This year, although we never discussed it explicitly, we were all feeling a sense of the general hurry, rush and anxiety that pervades this season. People are busy; they feel overcommitted; there is not enough time to do everything. Sometimes, during this season of increased demands, the church can be one of the main culprits! In our desire to fulfill every dream and rehearse every tradition, to keep up every custom, we end up placing greater burdens on ourselves. We increase our anxiety and decrease our peace, in order to prepare for the Prince of Peace!
I’m intentionally scaling back my own activities this year, in order to focus on those which are most important to me, and to the church. With the help of the worship planning team and many talented church members, our worship for Advent will center on three dramatic presentations of the Gospel story. We’ll have lots of opportunities for quiet and calm, and plenty of chances to sing all of our favorite Christmas carols. No big productions with a cast of thousands – just the simple honest presentation of the most important story we know: the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Nazareth.
I want to challenge each one of you to do the same – to make peace in your life this Advent and Christmas. I challenge you to intentionally slow down and savor this beautiful season. Even if you can only do this for a few days, or a day, or an hour, give yourself permission to STOP! Drink a cup of cocoa; drive around and look at Christmas lights; put on the Christmas music and sit still for a while; play some games with the family; read a book out loud together.
Many years ago, when I was a volunteer church educator, I wrote a little essay about Christmas. In it, I described my frantic rush to get everything done. I want to share a bit of this essay with you, in hopes that you, too, will find a place of peace, so that you may greet the Prince of Peace as he is born anew in you this season.
Even though I think I am fairly well organized, there is always some forgotten task that must be accomplished at the last minute. The newsletter! The baking! That year-end report for the client! How in the world am I going to get ten sets of angel wings ready by 7:00 on Christmas Eve? What would be better, tulle or gauze? I hope I can staple the gauze and the staples won’t catch on anyone’s hair. Will the glitter end up all over the choir loft? What if I don’t have enough wings for everyone? There are only six angels signed up, but I know that when the wings are produced, the rest of the heavenly host will appear, as suddenly as they were there with the angel that spoke to the shepherds. Will any prospective angels agree to be shepherds at the last minute? Not if I know the heart of a seven-year-old girl they won’t. One look at those wings, and there will be a free-for-all. Better make twelve sets.
And then, it happens. As I stand holding the wings of an angel, it creeps over me. No sudden apparitions, no annunciation, no host of heavenly beings. Just a stillness, a quiet awareness of the peace of Christmas. All is well. The Christ Child will be born again this year in the stable. The shepherds will kneel in awe while the angels sing. Mary’s heart will be full, her spirit open to God’s voice. What needs to be accomplished will be accomplished. There may be no room at the inn, but the baby will come anyway. The angels will don their wings and climb into the choir loft. Their haloes will shift around on their shining hair, and they will nudge one another as they try to see their parents in the congregation below. As the candles are lit, the angels will sing, but I will be silent in the ineffable stillness. For I am touching the wings of an angel. The glitter will fall to the pew cushions in a silver shower. I will arise with the shepherds, and we will say to one another, “Let us go now unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us!”
May the Peace of Christmas fill your heart.