Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thinking about Advent (I do know it's Lent...) e*r Week 2

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Red Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

I realize it's Lent, and I'm sure I'll talk some about that next post, but right now, I really am thinking about Advent.

Our course text for Essentials Red is Ancient Future Time by Robert E. Webber. Amazing book dealing with spirituality throughout the Christian Year.

What is the Christian Year? It's "life lived in the pattern of death and resurrection with Christ" (p. 21). It's the ordering of our days, our lives, so that we are constantly reflecting and purposefully meditating on the greatness of God and His redemptive work in our lives and in our world. It's a pause to stop and think about what it is that God has done, is doing and will do in our lives.

Since the bulk of our reading for this week covers Advent and Christmas, that's where most of my thoughts lie.

Webber says that Advent is the time when we long for redemption, when we inventory our lives and recognize those places where we need redemption...places where bad habits, faulty thought patterns, incorrect ways of thinking/behaving have lodged themselves and underminded our becoming fully human. He warns, however, of allowing that process to be only intellectual:

"One of our greatest problems is that we make our decisions intellectually without recourse to the deeper side of our personality. Obviously the mind must be engaged in our decisions, but decisions of life tthat are primarily formed in the mind without the pain of a gut-wrenching longing that results in sleepless nights and moments of deep anxiety are too often dismissed with the wave of the hand or a rationalization that seems intelligent and acceptable." (p. 51)

I once went to a series of seminars by an incredibly gifted Christian counselor who made the observation that decisions to change patterns of behavior are only lasting if made in a state of heightened emotional awareness. In other words, in order for change to take place, it has to be much more than an intellectual decision. The mind, heart and soul must engage in order for this change (be it good or bad) to take place.

Advent is the perfect time to allow that state of heightened emotional awareness to be a catalyst for lasting change as I allow God to redeem those areas He brings to light.

"Perhaps before God can really break in on us we need to identify someone in need and give to that person or group in a sacrificial way. How can we expect God to pour out a spiritual blessing on us when we are stingy withour abundance? Clinging to our earthly goods only arrests the flow of God's love through us and back to us again. Perhaps the intensity of God's presence in our lives this Advent season will matchthe intensity with which we are willing ot love a creature of God who is less fortunate than we." (pg. 46-47)

That gave me great pause for thought as I reflected over this past Advent season...with just a touch of panic as I wondered if we had even given thought to giving to others less fortunate.

Then God reminded me: Mexico.

About 3 times a year, my kids and I go with teams of people from our church to a small colonia outside of Reynosa, Mexico. Our December trip is focused on shoes. We go in October and trace the feet of as many children in the colonia as we can. People sign up to purchase shoes for all of these feet and we take them back to the colonia in December and deliver the shoes door-to-door.

This year, in lieu of a big Christmas at our house, each of our kids went shopping for shoes for a child in Mexico. They each helped to select the style of shoe, some socks, toys, etc. to put in the box. Since we go so often, we know some of the kids we're buying for which heightens the excitement as my children pick out things that they're sure their friend will like. You can go to my friend Erin's blog to read more about that trip if you're interested.

The very cool thing for me, as I am remembering Advent, is the recognition that we didn't really miss the big Christmas. And I think that the spiritual blessing poured out on our family was "contentment." We really are content with what we have. My younger kids expressed a little sadness at the few presents, but when I asked what more they would've wanted, none of them could really think of anything.

I'm thrilled to find that even though I wasn't studying Advent like I am now God was still leading me and my family in practicing the principles embedded in Advent. It's like He's written His law on my heart or something...

And so it is with Lent. I'll be reading about it next week. I expect I'll recognize ways I'm already incorporating Lenten principles as well as discover those new ancient ones that will enrich the journey in following the Christian year.

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