Relooking at Advent

“And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 NLTadvent

I gently knocked on her door, before opening. “Hi, Gilly!” I called making sure it was ok for me to let myself in. A voice came from around the corner saying, “Come on in, Keesi.”

I’ve corrected her before on my name, but it’s been eight years now, so I’ve just let it go.

She stayed put in her comfy chair, as getting up wouldn’t be an easy task. “What did you bring?” Gilly inquired looking at the brown Panera bag I was carrying. “Three different kinds of soup,” I responded. “I figured you could enjoy them over the next few days.”

“Oh, good!” she exclaimed from her chair, “That sounds real good.”

Gilly is 101 years old and manages to live by herself. I met her when she was 93 after we were paired together through a program at church. Once or twice a month I would visit, pray, and read scriptures with her. I followed through for the first few years, but when I became ill, I requested Gilly be reassigned with someone who would be more vigilant. Since then, I’ve tried to drop by and see how she is doing every few months. Especially around Christmastime so I can deliver our family’s traditional homemade candy.

We sat and visited talking about her being lonely but thankful  for the company of her cat.  She was excited that her Christmas cards had a picture of her with her new cat.  She told me how one person had taken the photo and another had gone to make copies for her.  Then she wanted to know if I would go across her apartment complex to check her mail.  She was curious if she had received any Christmas cards.  Just like me, she enjoyed reading news from her friends and seeing pictures from those in her past she had kept up with.

Christmas cards are just one of the things my family creates in the holiday season.  We like to make candy, too.  Gift shopping can sometimes get out of hand, so we’ve created limits.  This year the kids are taking trips in the summer with school and church, so gifts are minimal.  Other seasonal expectations in Thorntonville include lights on the house, home made hot chocolate and a large meal to celebrate on Christmas day.  Getting carried away in the glossy trappings is easy, but… then the season brings someone else along to remind me of other things that are more important.

To me the holiday season is an oxymoron. “The happiest time of the year,” is a season of gluttony for many and a tremendous time of want and desperation for others. Some have been blessed with the ability to find balance in the in-between, while others could care less.

Earlier this week after leaving Walgreens from picking up a photo, I turned the corner to find a man begging for food and money on the side of the road. Our area has many corners now where people stand to beg. His sign was simple and closed with “God Bless You.” Thankfully, after my daughter’s pushes this summer to make care kits for the homeless, there was a Ziploc filled with soup, water and other goodies, I could give the man. His sign stuck out in my mind though.

“God Bless You.” I thought. “God,” I prayed. “There is so much need. How do I celebrate when there is so much need?”

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a worship service at my son’s college to hear his choir sing. In the service there were special songs for the choirs, scripture readings and hymns for the congregation. It was an incredible worship experience.   The singing from the choirs was wonderful, but when everyone sang – my heart was filled with tremendous joy! When the speaker talked on Christ being more than a symbol my ears perked. Christ is a relationship. He compared Christ to marriage. “Marriage is not the wedding band, it is the commitment and relationship between two people.” My heart resonated with this message. Jesus isn’t a symbol, He’s a relationship in my life. He is my center, my place of comfort, my go-to for wisdom and my peace.

Christ entered a world where lonely and homeless lived. Where there were wealthy people, poor people, well fed and those who were hungry. There were those who overspent and those who were miserly, there were people in power and people struggling to get by. There was pretty much everything we have today at the time  God chose to come to us wrapped in flesh, born in a manger. His “birth” is a symbol but not what I fully celebrate. It is the life Jesus chose to live and give that I celebrate. Jesus came to give salvation, grace, encouragement, and hands on training in the “how to love others” department. I don’t worship a Nativity set or seasonal gifts, I worship and am in a relationship with a risen Savior.

These last few weeks I’ve been looking at Advent wrong. I’ve been looking at Advent as a preparation for a birth day – one day; when the reality is Advent is a time of preparation for a relationship – many days. It’s “get the heart ready” time for a Savior who desperately desires the very best for me, for you, for everyone. Advent is an opportunity to share with others about the birth of the King of our hearts and what he did and does for us daily, not just prepare pastries and give gifts. The preparation of Advent takes place in our hearts, not in our kitchens, under the tree and mailboxes.  It’s in the songs of worship, smiles of encouragement and blessings of grace given by a Savior.

“God Bless You.” Never looked so sweet.

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