“For God alone, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalm 62:1, NRSV)
This Advent season we’re covering the four topics of hope, peace, joy, and love. These are defining qualities that we find in the prophecies about Jesus’ birth as he comes to save the world. Other words that are tied equally to Advent are words like prepare, wait, watch, and listen. During the season of Advent, we are to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus anew into our lives, and we prepare through waiting, watching, and listening.
Some people are either so disciplined in their preparations or they have nothing else to do but to sit and wait and watch and listen for signs of God’s coming into the world. These people probably live their lives in some cloistered community. They certainly couldn’t be people who live in the hustle and bustle of mainstream American life with school and church programs to attend, shopping lists to tackle, parties to plan, travel arrangements to make, and managing the tense relationships that bubble to the surface when the whole family gets together. For most of us, the idea that we’re supposed to wait, watch, and listen is utterly absurd. And maybe it is absurd. But is writing off the spiritual preparations for the coming of our Savior good for our souls? It is not.
So what do we do about it? We can’t completely withdraw from the myriad responsibilities and commitments of the season so that we can sit quietly and prepare for Jesus’ coming anew into our hearts. So let’s settle on a compromise. One of the barriers to peace (which is our topic for this week) is our tendency to be absent from the activities in which we engage by thinking ahead to what is next. If it’s important for you to be at your child’s Christmas program, then "be" there. Be aware of the energy in the room. Watch for what is unique about the smiles on the children’s faces. Imagine how the other parents in the room might be feeling. Be fully present at that moment and observe all the moment has to offer. And give thanks to God.
You can repeat this in the variety of activities that are demanding your time. When you shop, notice the clerk and say something nice to them about them. When you are preparing for a party, don’t worry about getting everything perfect—rather, imagine the joy that you will experience being together with friends and say a prayer for each of them as you set the table. Even your challenging relatives need your prayers—as well as your understanding that they are doing the best they can. Be gentle with them. And be gentle with your Self. Find gratitude in every moment as you open your Self to the possibility that even in the busy-ness, God is with you. Without realizing it, you will be waiting, watching, and listening, and then all this preparation will lead to a new awakening when Jesus is born anew in your heart. Advent may be absurd—but it’s easier than you think.
Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church