Advent Reflection #12, 2016

advent-series-image-2016

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

At times the Holiday Season can be overwhelming. Cooking large meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas, buying presents, wrapping them, decorating your home, extra school activities, extra church activities, work parties, entertaining people on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and traveling are all things that we look forward to, or possibly dread, this time of year! I look forward to most of these things, but I remember a time several years ago when I felt very overwhelmed by the feeling that it was all too much. I think it was my daughter’s first Christmas, or possibly her second. We had travelled a long distance to be with family and were busily trying to see all our family, balance out how much time was spent with each, and we were struggling to find a way to cram in a Christmas Eve service. I realized that we had to begin being very intentional about what we were doing, when, how much, etc . . . as we accepted the great responsibility of raising our children and teaching them about our beliefs, customs, and values. Perhaps more than that, though, I realized I was just weary of the busyness. Observing Advent each year, I think and pray about silence, anticipation, longing, and preparing for God. Then, in practice, I was living a hectic and busy life. And, despite being a pastor, I found myself trying to fit God in to all the other stuff going on. I was convicted. I had had enough.

Since that day, I began buying presents much earlier, when possible before Advent. We began doing daily things as a family (the Jesse Tree in particular) to help our kids prepare for and understand Christmas. We’ve adopted Christmas morning traditions that we will do regardless of where we are or who we’re with. And, we’ve established a tradition of attending a Christmas Eve service when we’re traveling, or hosting our own at our church, when we’re at home. (This year, Renton Church of the Nazarene is not holding a Christmas Eve service, though, as we are having a Christmas Day service on Sunday, December 25.) I also began attempting to do all I can to keep our church calendar de-cluttered during Advent, ensuring that we were achieving a balance between facilitating worship and enabling the congregation to experience God anew on the one hand, and unnecessary busyness on the other. In my opinion, these have all made a big impact on our observation of Advent, and our celebration of Christmas.

Odds are, if I, as a pastor, feel burdened, weary, and overly busy during the Christmas season – to the point that I’m left trying to find a time to fit God in to my family’s schedule – then you probably do to.

Jesus came to lift heavy burdens, to provide rest and release, and to teach us his ways. Are you in need of this? Would you like help with your burdens? Are you tired, sore or stressed?  Jesus does not intend it to be so. Christians: you will not win more favor with God for being busier than the next person. Avoid idleness, yes, but we should equally seek to avoid overburdening ourselves and stretching ourselves too thin. Instead, let Jesus teach you his ways and help you with your burdens.

Take time to rest today. Maybe you need a nap – a prayer-nap! Perhaps you need to sit in a comfortable chair and just think, reflect, or meditate. Consider your life, your busyness, and how you observe the holidays. Are there things you should change? Are your priorities right? Could a non-Christian tell that you are a Christian by your schedule, what you do, and what you don’t do, this time of year? Rest and think. And, should you feel led to make changes, talk with your loved ones about this. Typically, our schedules are not our own. In the same way, our burdens and stress are typically not our own either. You just might find that your spouse or your children might feel the same way. Find a way to slow down, rest, and refocus today.

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