For quite a few years I made a sort of Advent calendar/Christmas countdown activity for each of my two older grandchildren. As I looked through my Christmas decorations for this recently, I was unable to find them. Knowing they'd be disappointed and also having some repeated reminders from my granddaughter on the last day of November, I came up with a new plan. Instead of the familiar tootsie roll treat for each day, I filled mugs celebrating the 60 years of Snoopy and the Peanuts cartoon gang with a new kind of candy treat. While shopping that day, I found an activity book for my third grandchild who lives quite a few miles away and planned to mail it as soon as possible so he might have an introduction to the Christmas season as well. Whew! I'd solved the problem of missing Advent calendars but there was still something I felt missing.
During November of this year, I was introduced to new thoughts on Advent. As I participated in a local evening prayer service, I learned the word Advent means “coming” and focuses not only on the birth of Jesus but the Second Coming of Christ. Two beautiful banners were displayed. One stating “The long awaited one has come” and the other, “Born to free His people.” At about the same time, I was introduced to a beautiful Advent devotional that reaches back into the Creation story to show how long the earth has been waiting for the coming of Christ. As I spent time praying that evening and have continued to read in God's Word, I've realized perhaps I've been missing much more than the old tradition of hanging sweets for my sweet ones.
My earliest memory of acknowledging the true meaning of Christmas in my family as a child is that of reading the Christmas story aloud by the Christmas tree one Christmas Eve. I'm not sure if it was Sunday School, Training Union or Girl's Auxiliary where I memorized the entire Luke 2 account of Jesus' birth. I am only thankful and humbled that I can still say most of it from memory. My love for God's Word and for Jesus Christ was birthed as women of God gave of their time to teach me the beautiful story of God's love and the first advent of Christ when He gave Himself for me on the cross. Was it an accident that I saw my Girl's Auxiliary teacher in the drug store the day I purchased the candies and mugs to make up for the missing items I was unable to find? What can I say about my being so busy I did not take the time to speak to her? Is there really an excuse for my busyness and what does this say about my readiness for this season?
Christmas shopping and Christmas music seem to come earlier each year. I even heard someone joke that Black Friday could possibly start on the day after Halloween the way things are going. It seems we are stretching the season and yet finding less time and attention for the true meaning of the season, myself included. I can hear the countdown in my mind as I think of all the things I need to accomplish or would like to complete before December 25th. But the words that are drowning out the countdown for me are “Watch and Wait.” These words of Jesus from the Advent devotional keep calling me back to a night when I read Luke 2 from my child size Bible.
“And in that vicinity there were shepherds living (out under the open sky) in the field, watching (in shifts) over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)
A few nights ago, we took my grandchildren to see “Christmastown”, a nearby town that is filled with Christmas lights, in celebration of this season. As we drove slowly through the neighborhoods, my grandchildren saw some other children, heads poking out of moon roofs to get a better view of all the lighted trees, wreaths, angels and snowmen. When given permission to do the same, I could see their excitement as they stretched themselves through the opening in our car as they were able to get an up close and personal view of the wonder of it all.
I feel sure the original missing Advent/Countdown calendar will reappear as I continue to unpack Christmas decorations. I won't be disappointed, however, when I find them, since their disappearance gave me the opportunity to perhaps let go of a tradition in favor of something new.
Perhaps this was God's way of giving me a wake up call and my own reminder to watch and wait this season. Like my grandchildren stretching up and out into the open sky, I want to stretch higher and move out of any complacency, to get in touch with the awe and wonder of this season of celebrating His coming. As the shepherd's of long ago, I want to take my shift and pass along the message as they did...
”And when they saw it, they made known what had been told to them concerning this Child. And all who heard it were astounded and marveled at what the shepherd's had told them.” (Luke 2: 17-18)
As I've remembered my mouth forming the following words as a young girl, “Mary was keeping within herself all these things, weighing and pondering them in her heart...” (verse 19), I've been pondering and weighing out these thoughts in my own heart.
I certainly don't want to get hung up on traditions or be too busy to take the time to bless those who first spoke the name of Jesus to me. My shift has come and I'm thinking of ways I can reach both back to those who first told me of His love and forward to those who are coming after me. I am waiting and watching for opportunities daily to fill in the missing piece for those I meet. Missing smiles, thanks, hugs, loving gestures... the countdown has begun. To how many can I make Him known in the next 20 days?