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Advent Tasks

169. Advent Tasks

Last Saturday on the day before the first day of Advent I was the speaker at my daughter’s United Methodist Church in Highland Mills, NY. I often discover as I prepare for an engagement like this one that I am the one who ends up richer and it was true this time.

Each of us at the event came home with a paper ornament with four things written on it. I had made these construction paper ornaments and divided them with a marker into four sections. Each person in attendance was given an ornament and a marker and as I went through the program, we all filled in the sections.

They were sort of the tasks of Advent—the things we need to be doing in this season. During the waiting for new birth, there is a time for reflection and for action. The first section has two words—Find God. I think this has to be done over and over again, because I lose the connection. Sometimes it feels stronger than others. And sometimes I think I have to go to some quiet place to find God, when the reality is that God is among the people, and at the food bank, and at the prison—and God is where the people are.

The second section also has two words—Give Gifts. Not just the gifts of Christmas although I love that part of this holy day, for I search and scramble to find gifts of meaning for those I love. But there is also the gifts we can give daily—attention to friends, and as a matter of fact attention to strangers. Those are gifts too and we can pause in our business to speak and listen to a stranger.

I just this moment realized that I left out a story last Saturday in this section, for I had found a wonderful African story about a man who presented the missionary in his community with this wonderful, beautiful shell, because the missionary had explained how people often gave gifts on Christ’s birthday. The missionary asked the man where he had found such a lustrous shell and he described the bay and the time it took him to walk there and get the shell. The missionary exclaimed about how wonderful it was that he had made that effort for him, and the one who brought him the shell was excited and said, “Long walk, part of gift.”  That’s what I mean about the joy of gift giving—it’s being willing to make the long walk to find the special gift.

The third section has the two words—Reach Out. I described the meaning of the Blue Christmas service, often held on the winter solstice which is the longest night of the year. Churches, including ours, are holding these quiet services to acknowledge that some people are living in a “long night” and are having a hard time with the excitement and noise and joys of the holiday. It is in thinking about those folks and reaching out to them that we can help them know that others care. But also, reaching out is just part of the Christ story—as this Jesus reached out over and over again.

The fourth section has three words—or one word hyphenated: God-In-You. And that’s that wonderful acknowledgment that there is God in each one of us. Sometimes it’s hard to see it in others. And sometimes it’s hard to see it in ourselves. But it’s there and when we go through our lives acknowledging the God in each one, then—we treat each other differently.

So my ornament hangs where I can see it now. And it encourages me to take the time this Advent to find God, give gifts, reach out, and see the God-in-me (and the God-in-you).

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