Prepare. A turkey sandwich with Lawry’s seasoned salt, cranberry relish, and lots of lettuce for school lunch. Toast up a remaining bagel with layered lox. What is my plan for the leftover pie dough? So many possibilities as we recover from one holiday to anticipate the next.
All holidays require preparation. Hm. That doesn’t sound very joyful, does it? But psychologists tell us that planning for fun releases dopamine; we might get more pleasure out of the preparation than the anticipated activity. The social worker part of me is easily sidetracked by articles about brain science and pop psychology. But as a pastor, I’m thinking about Advent. Preparing for preparing.
Christians created Christmas, of course. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Going to Jerusalem to teach in the Temple that had been rededicated just a few generations before, but then destroyed and looted by the Romans within his disciples’ lifetime. Which, as Jesus said, was certainly not the end. More wars, food shortages, and epidemics to come.
To celebrate or not to celebrate? What is the “Christmas spirit” after all? It is easy to become legalistic about holidays- whether or how to observe them, turning traditions into rules, putting pressure on ourselves and others to prepare in a particular way. And so we swing from one extreme to the other, from elaborate celebrations to eschewing all holidays, leaving us with only ordinary time. A relief for one generation is a loss for another.
The ideal balance eludes us when we pursue it, no more achievable than the myth of the perfect holiday. And where is God in all of this? Who remembers that we are but dust. That without rituals, human beings forget. Escape from slavery, living in tents, miracles of provision, deliverance from death, promises and covenants.
So we light candles. For Hanukkah and for Advent. We prepare special foods. We take vacations- observing Sabbath restrictions created for us to embrace rest- to spend time with family and friends. Holidays are about children, as Deuteronomy reminds us, passing on the stories. What God has done for us.
This Advent at New Covenant we concentrate on the work of our hands. The role each of us plays in the story of our time, the kingdom we are called to prepare together.
Do not let your hands grow weak.
Yahweh, your God, is in your midst. Zephaniah 3:16-17
The first instruction, in the Bible and in practice, is to be not afraid. Do not fear. Despite what we see around us. In Zephaniah’s time. In Jesus’ time. In our time. The message of Scripture is hope. That we are not alone. God is here. Among us. Suffering. Rejoicing. Childbirth. Pain. Death. Resurrection. An image of Yahweh taking delight in us. Where we are loved. And God rejoices with loud singing. Over us.
But for now, our hands do the work. To prepare the way of the Lord. To prepare our own hearts. To prepare our world. May we labor together, that our hands do not grow weak. May we be not afraid. May we draw strength and joy from Yahweh, in our midst, incarnating among us.