As 2020 draws to a close most are anxiously waiting to turn the page hoping that a new start will end what has been an unpredictable and despairingly difficult year. We haven’t beat the pandemic yet, but as we enter the Season leading up to Christmas, Advent is an invitation to recognize that in whatever ways we have experienced this year’s darkness, reflecting on the meaning of God coming to this world is a way to focus on light and hope. Traditionally the words used in Advent celebrations are hope, peace, joy and love, but because this year has blown all traditions it pushed me to think about other words to celebrate and speak about the same story.
The dictionary meaning for the word Advent is, an event happening; an invention being made; or a person arriving. So, putting those definitions into a sentence, Advent is God unveiling His Kingdom with the birth of his Son arriving on earth. Sitting with that phrase is profound and transformational, maybe in a small way similar to those who experienced God’s advent 2,020 years ago. Advent is celebrated during the four Sundays and weeks leading up to Christmas day. The idea is that from God’s initial promise to redeem his creation until the time of Christ’s birth there was a long time of waited anticipation. Advent helps us to recall and enter into the feel of that wait as we anticipate our Christmas celebrations. Sadly, often the overwhelming bustle of Christmas preparations exhausts us to the point that the mystery and wonder of God’s kingdom coming to earth is lost among the gifts, turkey and trimmings. That is why for the first week of Advent this year I chose the word, PAUSE.
Possibly you feel all of 2020 has been one massive pause. Many planned events, celebrations, and holidays have been put on pause or dramatically changed until it is safer to reschedule. Conversely, an Advent pause is not about changing or rescheduling, it is a pause that calls us to a full stop, a pause that gives time and space to meet with God as we remember Jesus’ birth. Someone used the illustration of putting a doorstop into life for a few minutes to open our hearts toward God. It is a scheduled stop to ponder and be present with Him.
The Christmas story told in Luke highlights that Mary was someone who paused and pondered. Angel Gabriel shows up announcing that she was greatly favored and Luke writes,
“She was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” Luke 1:29 (NASB)
Then, after the Shepherds visited Mary, Joseph and the baby, Luke writes,
“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (2:19)
No doubt if we had a visit from angel Gabriel, or a group of Shepherds after they saw an angelic chorus, we would pause and ponder its significance. That will likely not happen this December but we have a divine presence within us and the invite to spend time to experience that truth should not be ignored. When we open room to be with God, our ordinary lives start to take on deeper meaning. What was once ordinary; people, places, task; all start to look different. They become sacred encounters as we live into a fuller meaning of God–with–us.
So what how should we pause to ponder? Here are a few suggestions for helping you intentionally practice this discipline now and even beyond Advent.
To ponder something is to contemplate or think deeply about it. It means that you slow down, come to a full stop, breathe deeply and take 15-20 minutes or more to be still, think, sense, and enter into an experience of your focus. Trevor Hudson comments, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn when we reflect on our experience.” Reflecting on our experience needs time and intentionality. This year, our celebration times are restricted but the upshot is we have more time to pause and reflect. The challenge is not to fill this extra space with escapes from leaning into the opportunity to reflect and learn.
Decide how, when, why and where you will pause in your day for spending time with God. A quiet spot that is inviting and relaxing is a good beginning. Choose a book, a devotional or advent guide that you can use for getting started. If you need a reminder for your commitment, setting an alarm or something creative such as a doorstop or a candle are good prompts. After your reading, a reflective question is to simply ask God what he wants you to hear from Him about what you have read then have your time to pause and ponder. A journal book or memory box is a way you can record and revisit any thoughts or questions you might have. Advent is a time of anticipated waiting that remembers Christ came, comes and will come again. This Christmas will be different but the differences don’t need to define your celebration, a disciplined time of pausing to be with the One celebrated can turn differences into a moment of holy awe and wonder.