Friday, December 01, 2006

advent preparations

Pam and I return again and again to a simple book entitled Unplug The Christmas Machine, first published fifteen years ago in 1991. There is wisdom scattered throughout the pages of this book, and it helps me to scan its pages each Advent, the earlier in the season the better. Today I came across a list of "The Four Things Children Really Want For Christmas": A relaxed and loving time with the family. Realistic expectations about gifts. An evenly paced holiday season. Reliable family traditions.

Reading these "four things" reminds me first that children are not really so different from adults. This can be a stressful time of year---the calendar is filled, the roads are jammed, the stores are crowded---and a little peace and relaxation would seem, at times, like a taste of heaven. Giving and receiving can become complex---especially as we expose ourselves to sophisicated the marketing of products we may not need and cannot afford. The pace can get away from us, and we may find ourselves out of touch with the reason for the season. As a result, traditions are important constants in a changing world, and especially within families that experience transition due to new birth, illness, death, geography or age.

I wonder myself about how the Christmas machine might be unplugged, and here are some of my own attempts---not that I succeed! First, I try to read the birth narratives in the gospels--Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Second, I work through the same devotional book each Advent. It is entitled Watch For The Light (Plough). Third, I try to listen to Christmas music from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas day. This year, I have loaded three hours onto my ipod shuffle. I like many different styles of music, so it never gets boring. At the end of the season I work my way through W.H. Auden's For The Time Being, and look forward to visiting my family in Georgia.

I try to say "yes" to as many parties as possible. As a pastor, I find this is one the best ways to get to know the people in our church. This also requires that I do something else: I try to exercise every day during the season. This lowers the stress, counteracts the delicious food, and allows me to listen to the music on the ipod!

The church has to accomplish a few simple objectives during this season, and they are always in my thoughts: to allow the pace of Advent, and the telling of the story of Jesus, the source of our hope, peace, joy, love and light, to become a part of my experience each day; to encourage our members to invite friends during this season (many family members and neighbors are especially open to an invitation to church at Christmas); and to fully fund our mission for the present and coming year. The last objective allows us to do so many good things in the name of Jesus, and to spread his light into every corner of the world.

I find, as I live through the days of Advent, that I long for the simple things: relaxation, realistic expectations, an even pace, reliable family traditions. It is a gift, once again, to make the Advent journey, especially with the PUMC congregation.

Finally, I send out a daily e-mail message during Advent, that is filled with a variety of things, including odd humor, musical suggestions, biblical reflection, etc. If you want to be added, write me at


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