It is almost Christmas Eve, and I am thinking about my Advent practices this year, especially those that were unintentional, the ones that just came to me, and for which I am grateful. I hope that God uses these, even more than whatever devotional practices I try, and at which I fail miserably. I am not yet ready to Christmas, but I pray that God will make me ready, is preparing me.
Babysitting was my first job, the one I thought would prepare me for the life I was told I would lead. But my life went a different direction, and I haven't babysat for many years, not since my nieces and nephew were young. But the newest member of our family is four years old, and one Sunday afternoon I had the great privilege of watching her. I got out my ancient Barbie dolls, and we changed outfits again and again. We had a tea party with apple juice served in tiny tea cups. We played with the dog, petting her and brushing her (with a little hugging as well). I put on the song "Let it Go", from the movie "Frozen", and she danced, and danced and danced. At one point she said, "I need a cape!" and after a moment of wondering, I remembered an old towel I had, with pretty fringe. I wrapped it around her shoulder and fastened it with a safety pin, so that she could be a princess. I thought about how I always thought I would be a mother, and my heart hurt a little for what I missed. But I also felt so happy to remember that an old towel can be a cape, that you can have a tea party with apple juice, that I could witness the dance, even just in a flash. O God: at Christmas, give me a cape, and help me to dance again.
2. Blessing Gifts.
One morning I walked into the church building and found a woman from my congregation sitting there. She wasn't waiting for me, exactly. She was waiting for whichever pastor would show up first, and that happened to be me. She said that she had a gift that she was going to send to Mississippi, to a Sister she knew there, someone who changed the course of her life when she was a young woman. She wanted to say thank you, to let this woman know what she had done, how her life had borne fruit. Now the Sister was an old woman, still working in the mission, but she wanted to say "thank you; you saved my life." She asked me to bless her gift.
Now I am not an expert about the blessing of objects, but I put my hands on her gift: a beautiful tea set, engraved with dragonflies. And we prayed that God would bless the gift, and its journey, that it would be a sign of love and a gift of love, and that it would bless both the giver and the receiver. We prayed that it would be used for comfort and for hospitality. And then we sent it off. O God: at Christmas, bless me and send me on a journey of blessing.
3. Hearing Christmas songs at the Mall.
We were shopping at the large mall one morning, not really finding anything, wandering around, just looking. It had not been such a productive morning, really, and we were thinking about going home, and doing something else, when we turned the corner and we heard them: a choir from a local middle school, singing Christmas carols. They were in the middle of "Deck the Halls" and we stood there listening. Then they began singing "Joy to the World", and the tears formed in the corners of my eyes, right there in the mall. I know they say that we should be singing Advent songs now, and I love them too. But there is something about the Christmas songs, and I don't think it is just the accumulated memories of singing them, or the sentiment, but it is the yearning for the peace they promise. It is the hope and the faith and the doubt all rolled up, and wanting to grasp something, in the middle of a world where some people can't even find it in their heart to pray for the family of Michael Brown, or dare to feel their pain. O God: at Christmas, soften my heart and help me to believe in your world, your peace, and the wonders of your love.