A remarkable gift

Take time for thanksgiving in -- and for -- Advent
December 4, 2008

Advent is just beginning -- how and to what will you dedicate your Advent time this year? In some years, the world around us is full-bore into shopping, decorating and partying by now. Given the world's financial crisis, this year just might be a bit more restrained. Count that as a blessing, and make some conscious decisions about how to spend your Advent time this year.

For some centuries, the church treated Advent as a mini-Lent, with great focus on penance and contrition, purple vestments and a somber, even dour, mood. In the last century, many parts of the church have returned to a more joyful and expectant mood. Some churches use Sarum blue vestments to mark that shift in an outward way. (The blue used in Advent is called Sarum blue in reference to the Sarum Rite dating from medieval England.) Most congregations still put off the Christmas carols and decorations until after the fourth Sunday of Advent. These four brief weeks are a remarkable gift, if we engage them.

Find or make an Advent calendar, and use the little daily ritual of marking another day as an invitation to consciousness, whether there is a door to open or a verse to read, and give thanks. Give thanks for breath, clean air, water to drink, food for energy and celebration, time to spend with friends and strangers who might become friends. Let go of the excess – business and busyness, too much rich food, mindless buying, needless driving and thoughtless speech.

Choose one thing as a focus each day or each week of Advent – for example, use words as a blessing in all ways and always through each moment of one day.

Give thanks for clean water to drink, cook and wash with – and use each drop consciously and carefully. Remember and give thanks for your own baptism as you wash your face in the morning.

Give thanks for the people in your life -- your family, co-workers and neighbors. Make a list. How is each one a blessing to you, and how can you be a greater blessing to each? Pray for the courage to start healing a damaged relationship with one of them. Another day, give yourself a deadline for making the first move.

Spend an hour building a relationship with someone you don’t know well. Discover the image of God in that person and bless the goodness in that person’s life. Find something to bless in a person you find difficult. Reach out and tell him or her of your gratitude.

Care intentionally for some part of God’s creation, human or nonhuman. Give up driving for a day or a week and use the opportunity to carpool or use public transportation. Find leisure activities closer to home. Look for a child or dog who would love a romp in the park – borrow from the neighbors if you don’t have one at home! Give thanks for the ability to play.

Give thanks for the abundance in your life -- food, shelter, employment or meaningful ministry in retirement. Reflect on significant changes since last year. Consider how much or little is really enough. What is superfluous and could bless both you and others by being passed along?

Take an hour or two and think about the rhythm of your life. How much time do you spend in a typical week working, reading, playing, serving others, praying? Make a conscious decision about how you would like to change that pattern. On another day, plan a small change in that rhythm for each week of Advent. You will be building or retuning a rule of life.

All of this thanks-giving and consciousness-improving is about preparing a home for the Christ-child. When we are ready to welcome the image of God in neighbors or give thanks for the goodness of creation, we soon discover that the Christ-child already has been born in our hearts.

A blessed Advent season -- may it be filled with peace, rest and awareness of light in the midst of darkness.