I am way too busy. I know it; you don’t have to tell me. Like most of you, I simply have too many plates spinning, too many things going on in my life. Whether you are a high-capacity person, or one of low-capacity, you have a capacity, and my guess is that most of the time you operate at or slightly (or way) over that capacity. Life moves at a frenetic pace, and all the promises of technology and transportation have only rendered it more frantic.
I believe God knows this about us, and, even though we haven’t always had smart phones or Uber, operating at or above our capacity has always been true about us. That’s why God commands things like Sabbath. And, reflection. Because He knows how vital it is for the restoration of our souls. I have been re-reading Richard Foster’s classic, Celebration of Discipline. Foster talks about the discipline of meditation. To the extent most of us think about meditation at all, we think of one type of meditation: meditation on Scripture, a passage or verse. While Foster certainly acknowledges this form has value, there are others. Specifically, he talks about the importance of periodically meditating or reflecting upon what is happening in the world around us through the eyes of Scripture, and through God’s perspective on life.
The Church has recognized the power of meditation for millennia, and created seasons of reflection into the liturgical year. The seasons are times of preparation, often preceding great times of celebration. These seasons are intended to cause us to slow down, to reflect upon God’s work in our lives, and ruminate on the depth of our relationship with Him. Reflecting on these things grounds my identity, it reminds me of who I am; it reorients my priorities, realigning them with God’s best for me; it allows me to slow down long enough to see His sovereign hand at work in my life all year long. Seeing him actively at work, molding and shaping and drawing me to Him, heightens my trust in Him, my reliance on Him, my awareness of His presence, and my ability to hear His voice. These seasons are really, really important to our spiritual well-being.
We are entering one of these seasons now. Advent isn’t just about lighting candles and counting down the shopping days until Christmas. It is about reflecting upon the miracle of the Incarnation, that moment in time where the eternal, perfect, Almighty Creator of the universe, who previously existed only in spirit, became one of us. This cosmos-shattering moment in history wasn’t a one-time event; it was for all eternity. Which means Jesus is, even now, the God-Man, intervening on our behalf, knowing our struggles, our feelings, our joys, and our hurts, and living them right alongside us.
It also means He is actively at work in our lives every single day. And so, Advent isn’t only the time we reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation. Because it happens at the end of the year, it’s also a time to reflect on what has God been up to in our lives all year long. Are you closer to the Lord than you were this time last year? Are you closer to someone else? What character traits has He developed in you this year, and what events or people in your life has He used to bring those characteristics forth? What difficult circumstances or people did He deliver you from? What circumstances or people did He deliver you through, and what fruit did He bring forth from that experience? What particular joys came to fruition this year, perhaps new experiences, or new friendships? What challenges did He allow you to overcome? Slowing down, getting alone, and dwelling on these things, maybe even journaling them, will actually heighten the joy of Christmas–they help us realize that this one abundant year in this abundant life we’ve been given is all made possible because of the miracle in the manger.
If we scamper about frenetically this season in a flurry of activity, even if it does result in a fun holiday, and fail to use this time of reflection to the fullest, we will be poorer for it- less resilient, less joyful, less grateful, and less ready for the new year. We were made for so much more. A well-kept Christmas begins with a reflective Advent.