Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” means “coming,” and of course, it’s a reference to the coming of Christ at Christmas. So over the next four weeks, we await the coming of Christ.
We’re not very good at waiting. We want everything immediately! Think about it: The fast food industry has grown exponentially in the last twenty years because people want their food quickly, and don’t have the time or patience to cook it at home. We have fast food drive-through lines because it’s way too much work to park the car, walk several feet and stand in line to order. And even with drive-through lines, if you’re like me, you become impatient if the line is not moving quickly enough! The Internet now provides us with information instantaneously, which is fantastic on one level, but dangerous on another, as it’s too easy to send off an email when we’re angry at someone before we’ve given ourselves a chance to cool down and say things we regret later or post things on a blog that are hurtful to others. We have overnight printing, overnight mailing, instant food, microwave ovens—all things that allow us to get what we want now, without waiting. If we want something and can’t afford it, no need to wait and save for it—we have credit cards! The average American household has $16,048 in credit card debt in 2016, and the average # of credit card accounts per card user is 3.7. Financial experts agree it’s the worst kind of debt, too, because the average interest rate is 12-18%, unlike owing money on a house, where one can get loans for as low as 4% right now.
So it’s hard for us to wait for Christmas—we hardly wait for anything else. Retailers are already in the full court press mode, pushing us to get all our Christmas shopping done. I was in a local store in October, before Halloween, and they were already playing Christmas carols over their speakers! So in Church we’re singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” but everywhere we go we’re hearing “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come. “
I want to suggest two simple things we can all do that may help us step back from the helter-skelter world of the instant, the “now” that we all live in—two things that might help us better focus on the event we will celebrate on December 25 and thus help us have a better Advent.
The first is this: Nothing helps us tune into the true “reason for the season” better than helping other people. If you live near an elderly home, for example, the Christmas season is a very lonely time for many elderly, as they miss their spouses who have died, or perhaps their children who don’t visit them enough. You can be there for them. Organizations who work with the poor need lots of volunteers to serve meals, deliver presents, and work soup lines. You can be there to help. You know, it’s pretty common that we, too, can get depressed or start feeling blue at this time of year, and our tendency is to say to ourselves, “I need some time for myself”, some “me time” but that’s exactly backwards. The best way to get us out of our funk is to focus on the needs of others, to make others happy. This is a great time of year to do it.
My second suggestion to get us ready for Christmas, to help us more fully appreciate this Advent season, is to spend about 10-15 minutes/day in prayer, asking God to lead you, bringing your worries before him, seeking him for guidance on decisions you must make about college, friends, personal situations. To pray doesn’t mean we must isolate ourselves and burn incense somewhere! Maybe it just means when we’re driving to school or home from school, we turn off the radio and cell phone and have a conversation with God and bring our worries before him. We don’t lean enough on God—but unless we lean, we cannot feel him pushing back, holding us up. And so we put all this pressure on ourselves to make good grades, go to the right schools, have the right relationships, instead of sharing those worries with God and asking him to help us.
If we go outside of ourselves to help others, if we pray and lean on God during these next few weeks, I think we’ll find this Advent season, this time of waiting, will help prepare us more fully for the most important event in human history. May we use this time well.