The Gifts of Advent…

Recently, I’ve been drawn into watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel.  I know what you are thinking… please don’t judge me!

Most of the movies portray Christmas in a very sweet, festive light…always with a happy ending. If you just watch one or two, it’s fine. If you watch more than that, you begin to see the “life is always a happy ending” message that Christmas movies 24/7 send. It’s like too much FB.  After a while, you begin to look at your own life and those around you in comparison to the movies. Most really don’t compare.

This past week I sat on a Child Study Team. Teachers come to talk about students who are really struggling and we discuss ways to help them and whether or not they need to be assessed for learning issues. Our latest meeting brought to the table four primary students. We began the discussions around their strengths and what they do well. Then we moved to their struggles, both emotionally and academically. By the end of our time together, it dawned on me, that while each of these four students struggle academically, their bigger issues were emotional. Each one comes from a home life that seems impacted by emotional and financial stress. They live in chaotic worlds. We brainstormed ways to support the students as well as their families. Our meeting ended with learning about a special needs student that lost his 8 month old sister while he was snuggling with her. She was wrapped up in blankets and suffocated. We all sat devastated. With heavy hearts we ended our meeting and headed home on that dark and cold December evening.

As I drove home, my heart was heavy. How can I help these kids and their families? What can I do to ease their pain and suffering? I’ve got my own stuff, but suddenly it didn’t seem very important. I was feeling hopeless about the current state of our families and the immense need so many of them have. Braving the quickly-dipping temperatures, I was forced to stop for gas. I was numb as I stood at the pump, willing the gas to fill my tank quickly. My mind was whirling with the images of these sweet kids that I have the privilege of working with each day. The tank filled and I grabbed my receipt. As I was getting settled in my warm car, the woman behind me honked and jumped out of her truck. She came to alert me that I had not put my gas cap back on or closed the little door. I’ve never done that! I thanked her over and over. What a warm blessing she was to me in that moment. My hope felt a bit more restored. I was able to see some goodness in what felt like such a dismal world around me.

This week has marked the beginning of the 2013 Advent Season. I began reading a wonderful book by Ann Voskamp called The Greatest Gift – Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Each day she shares a small morsel of hope in what seems like a ever-declining world. Here are some excerpts from Days 1-6 along with photo’s of the ornaments from The Jesse Tree that Ann provides to compliment her Advent readings.

Day 1 – “There, here, in the midst of the inconceivable, the loud claims, the hard sells, the big spectacles, (*the hopeless feeling so many have) Christ comes small, the micro- macro-miracle who comes in the whisper and says, Seek Me. Just where you are, look for the small glimpses of God-glory breaking out, sprouting, shooting, unfurling, bearing fruit, making the shoot that bears witness to God – the hardly noticed child, the hymn hummed over the sink, the unassuming woman bent at the register, the dog-eared Word of God beckoning from the shelf.”

IMG_4001Day 2 – “This Christmas story… It begins with the always coming of Christ…No matter your story before, this is your beginning now; you were formed by Love… for love.”

IMG_4002Day 3 -“And your God, He’s coming now, everywhere, for you…God refuses to to give up on you.  Your God looks for you when you’re feeling lost, and your God seeks you out when you’re down, and your God calls for you when you feel cast aside.  He doesn’t run down the rebel.  He doesn’t strike down the sinner.  He doesn’t flog the failure.”

IMG_4003Day 4 – “How did we ever find ourselves with the gift of finding favor with God?  God, who hung the stars – He has taken a thread of His heart and tied it to yours.  And He didn’t need to, but God tied His heart to yours so when you feel pain, He fills with pain.”

IMG_4004Day 5 – “This is the gift that wraps up all stresses quiet: I will bless you. … But the weight of everything melts like thinning snow in the heart of His words: “I will bless you.”  He will not burden you.  He will not break you.  He will bless you – the God if invincible reliability, the God who has infinite resources, the God who is insistent love.  You can always go ahead and breathe – He will bless you.  You can always breathe when you know all is grace.”

IMG_4005Day 6 – “The gigantic secret gift that He gives and we unwrap, that we never stop unwrapping – we who were barren now graced with the Child who lets us laugh with relief for all eternity.  There is nothing left to want.  There is nothing left to fear: “All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts) And His for you never will.  So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed.  Laughter – it’s all oxygenated grace.”

IMG_4006(Above are photo’s of ornaments from Ann Voskamp’s website – A Holy Experience – Jesse Tree – each coinciding with every day of Advent.)

So much hope each day in a few short pages of words.  I love that it’s not about bows and packages and stockings and lights and trees.  It’s about the Giver becoming the gift.

“The Giver becomes the Gift, this quiet offering.  This heart beating in the chest cavity of a held child, a thrumming heart beating hope, beating change, beating love, beating the singular song you’ve (*we’ve) been waiting for – that the whole dizzy planet’s been spinning round waiting for.  Waiting.   Advent… it means “coming.” (A. Voskamp, The Greatest Gift)

I don’t want the quiet stresses that seem to surface during the holidays to trump the gift of Jesus coming this Advent.  The waiting… I don’t want the waiting to be clouded with things that are not important.  I want to clearly see and breathe the grace and hope that is mine (ours) for the taking!  There is no greater gift…

IMG_4007* my thought inserted into her words from the book

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