Advent

Truth: By this time last week, I was already sick of Christmas.  Those of you who know me may have a hard time believing that.  Christmas has always been my thing.  When my husband and I were dating, we had to have several (heated) conversations about when the appropriate date to start playing Christmas music would be.  (me- October 1st.  him- December 23rd)  However, working at a church makes Christmas your busiest time of year.  I have two MAJOR church events I am coordinating that happen between December 21st and 24th, involving most of that week and about 200 people.  Overwhelming.

And then there is the fact that I have two children.  All of a sudden, there is so much pressure to create Christmas memories.  Pictures with Santa.  Tours through the lights.  The perfect tree.  The decorated house.  The Pintastic holiday cards.  The music.  The cookies.  The candy.  The parties.  The Christmas PJs and Christmas dresses and angel breakfast and nativity plays and presents for daycare teachers and… And… AND…

It was December 8th.  My house was not decorated.  I had no tree.  No Christmas cards.  No energy.   I hadn’t been able to go to worship at my church for 2 weeks because I was too busy doing OTHER things for church.  I wanted it done.

Amy, my pastor/supervisor/friend, gave me great advice.  Advent is about celebrating the approach of Christmas, not its onslaught.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed that Christmas is only 3 weeks away, savor the fact that you still have 3 weeks to prepare for the coming of our Lord.

ad·vent
ˈadˌvent/
noun
 The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.

Advent is the discipline of anticipation.  It is about arrival, not about adherence.  It is the practice of preparing our hearts and minds to meet the Lord.  It is not about decorations, trees, or creating new memories.  It is instead, about savoring the shared memory that we as Christians hold together.  Christ has come.  As a baby, as a Savior, as our Sacrificial Lamb.  This season is about privilege, not obligation.  And for me, it may not be about the date on the calendar.  I can celebrate the miracle of the birth of Christ just as honestly the week after Christmas as the week before.  And perhaps that needs to be part of my personal spiritual walk, at least in this stage of life.

But that doesn’t resolve what to do with the STUFF that comes along with Christmastime… And here is where I have landed.  I am going to try and mine the original intent from these practices.  I want to see these things as part of the celebration of advent.  The lights can remind us of Christ, the LIGHT of the world.  The parties, a way to celebrate this miracle with those who we hold dear.   The cards, a way to send our thoughts and love to our people far away.  The gifts, a chance to remember the Gift we have been given.  And if something robs me of my joy (*cough* ELF ON THE SHELF), it gets eliminated.

And now, from a better place of mind and heart, I can say,

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Let your heart be light… 

nativity

And then there is this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgOIYvDgSLg

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bones

Yahweh took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of Yahweh to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 
Ezekiel 37:1-2

Have you been there? To the valley of dry bones?  Have you gazed out upon what you thought would be verdant life, only to see shriveled dreams, dust and ashes?  Has the thing you cherished, the vision you held dear, evaporated before your very eyes?

The spirit of discouragement is a powerful thing.  As Christians, we deal in intangibles.  How does one measure a soul?  How do you determine success or failure when you are operating in the realm of discipleship? Often, God does not bring growth in a linear fashion, but instead, in fits and starts.  And often, all too often, we pour time, energy, love, and hopes into something that seems to whither before our eyes.  In that moment, staring at a valley of bones (or an empty room, a rebellious teenager, a marriage in shambles) we hear a voice whisper “you have failed.”

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:3

Let me tell myself you something important.  When you are doing kingdom work, it is not  your responsibility to make something succeed.  You cannot do it.  We cannot white knuckle a fledgling ministry into succeeding.  We cannot convince someone to come to Jesus by a winsome argument.  You cannot cure societies ills by gritting your teeth and working that much harder.

That’s God’s job.

He may do it.  Or he may not.

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7-8

This is our job.  Speaking the message.  Obedience.  Simply to take the next step.  It is God who puts the bones back together.  We humans are such silly, all or nothing creatures.  We either take on too much- trying to make water into wine through our own machinations, or we sit back and do nothing- saying that we are waiting on God to provide. The answer lies in the middle.  We must find the balance.

If God has planted a dream in your heart, or given you the responsibility to shepherd a ministry, your job is obedience.  To do the next thing.  It is only when we are faithful in our small tasks, that God brings forth the miracle.  When God tells us to speak, we must speak.  When he calls us to act, we do it. It is human hands and human voices God uses to change this world.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10

So often, we are expecting God to do mighty things.  Heal the terminally ill.  Take a small church plant and grow it into a mega church.  Convert the jihadist.  He does that.  But he also does so much more than the grand acts.  Much of God’s work is invisible, small, mundane, and ever so much more powerful than the miraculous.  The majority of Christendom has not been created by supernatural acts, but by the faithful obedience of generations of believers.  It is the faithfulness of God’s children to live into their gifts and to offer their lives to God that has sustained our faith and transformed our world.  God creates the seeds that grow into flourishing crops.  But he allows us to plant them.

I don’t know what mountain you are staring at today.  I don’t know the vision God has birthed in your heart.  But what I do know, is that in order for that dream to happen, two ingredients are required.  God’s power, and your obedience.  Bearing the fruit is not your task.  But planting the seed is.  And if you are hearing that whisper in your ear, the one who has told you that you have failed, that you aren’t good enough, remember the valley of dry bones.  Sometimes one act of obedience, one whisper of prophecy, is all that is required to resurrect those bones into life.