Transitioning from Thanksgiving into Advent

 

 

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Sunlight filtered through the trees last weekend as we neared the spot where we would see the eagles. It was more of a stroll than a hike to get there, as the trail meandered through the woods toward the Chehalis River.

Bald Eagle 5

Later we crossed over a stream via a log bridge and wandered back along an easier path that paralleled a golf course. It was a gorgeous day — a day that filled us with thankfulness for the beauty of our surroundings.

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But thankfulness is more than expressing appreciation for what we have. It involves a response to Him who is the giver of all we have and are.

This weekend many will be transferring attention from Thanksgiving to Advent. We begin the annual time of preparation, readying ourselves to receive again the Gift beyond imagining… God among us, the Creator and Saviour of the world. But truly, there shouldn’t be a transitioning from one celebration to another. We need to carry our thanksgiving on through and into Christmas.

What traditions are a part of your Thanksgiving-into-Christmas preparations?

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“Thanks be to God for his indescribable Gift.”

2 Corinthians 9:15

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Candles & Greenery, Magic & Mystery

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Candles and greenery are turning up everywhere. Sunday being the first Sunday in Advent – and part of the first weekend in December – we began our Christmas preparations… at least a few initial ones.

We put up our tree. I know it’s early, but I’m like a little child when it comes to Christmas. I can hardly wait!

DSC08996Saturday evening our church held its annual Christmas turkey dinner and the mood was set. There were candles at every table.

Then in church Sunday morning we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath – the “Candle of Hope” – and we sang:

You are the Hope living in us
You are the Rock in whom we trust
You are the light
shining for all the world to see…

Jesus, our hope,
living for all who will receive…

Lord we believe *

Our children come from muddled parents. My upbringing didn’t include faith or church attendance and Christmas was a secular celebration. My hubby’s father was a Presbyterian minister and in their household the holiness of Christmas was important. Our children grew up with a heritage that included a little of everything that both of us found meaningful from our backgrounds, and it’s a wonder they ever found their way through the magic and the mystery!

But they did… all the way through to their own solid Christian faith. (Obviously it wasn’t of our doing but the hand of God on their lives.)

Christmas can be celebrated in the silence of an unadorned stable, the holiness of our churches or amid the twinkling lights, greenery and decorations of our homes. The important thing is that we acknowledge the Christ of Christmas, the Hope of the nations, the Light of the world, and during this season of Advent prepare again for the significance of his coming.

As I write this, I’m squinting at the lights on our tree and setting my sights on him.

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* Hope of the Nations – Brian Doerksen

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In his name the nations will put their hope.

Matthew 12:21 – NIV

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We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 33:20 – NIV

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But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Micah 7:7 – NIV

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It’s coming: a new month… a new season… a time of preparation

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday we begin again. Advent — advenio, “to come to” – is a four week period when we prepare for the coming of the Christ. We prepare for his birth at Christmas, his coming into our lives, and his eventual Second Coming.

For many, this preparation also means getting organized for the December 25th celebration… gift purchases, food preparation, home decoration. My hubby has put up outside Christmas lights already, although he won’t turn them on until this weekend. I can hardly wait! I love the special holiday lights that sparkle through December nights. But none of them can equal the glory of God’s light.

This was sunrise a couple weeks ago while we were at our Cariboo cabin.

I began my NaNoWriMo month of writing there, pulling out my laptop every morning soon after dawn when the men left for their day of hunting. Without my usual daily distractions I accumulated words in excess of the daily average and returned home to post over 18,000 words on Day #10. Since then… well, let’s just say I haven’t quite maintained that average.

November 30th, and its conclusion of NaNoWriMo, is creeping steadily closer. I may or may not complete 50,000 words by then, but I will have made significant progress on the first draft of a new novel. I will be ready to change my focus from intense writing to a more normal pace which will give me time to also concentrate on Advent.

I love all the different preparations that will come with the new month. The house will have evergreen boughs and twinkling lights, and the fragrance of sugar cookies and shortbread. There will be family and friends visiting, special music playing, and wrapped presents under a tree. I hope there will be a little snow, too, although I know better than to count on it.

And there will also be time — time to ponder the coming miracle of God’s personal Christmas gift to the world, to me. Oh, the wonder of it!

What’s your favourite part of this season of preparation?

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Time, Christmas Traditions and Memories

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What is it about Christmas that has us thumbing through old cookbooks searching for a particular recipe of Grandma’s? Why do we carefully unwrap ornaments that are old and dilapidated and take pleasure in displaying them in prominent locations on our decorated trees?

This little cross has been on every tree since I was born. And no, I’m not telling you how many years that’s been. At some point it moved from my parents’ home to ours, along with a few other treasures. I never knew what significance, if any, it had for them, but I cherish it.

Every family seems to have its own special traditions. A Facebook friend mentioned she’s making Polish stuffed cabbage … that it’s not Christmas without it. I make fruitcakes in November every year. When my mother was alive she made steamed carrot pudding and we always traded some so we each had both. It only happened at Christmas. Neither of us made those recipes at any other time of the year. I also remember every Christmas Eve the entire family gathered at my paternal grandparents’ home. We wouldn’t have dreamed of making other plans.

Christmas Eve 1953

There’s joy in these traditions and family celebrations, but when something happens to knock everything off kilter, their memories can make future Christmases a time of nostalgia and melancholy, even depression, as we recall with longing “how it use to be”.

We can turn the hands of our clocks backwards as much as we want, but there’s no way to turn back time in real life. I think that’s why time travel and historical fiction have such a wide appeal. As readers we can place ourselves into an earlier era, at least until we reach the last page.

I wonder if our families will recall this Christmas with fondness two or three decades from now. I wonder which of our traditions they will choose to continue or discard, and why. What makes traditions meaningful? As we approach the fourth Sunday in Advent, preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christ’s birth, what might we do to ensure the focus of our Christmas celebration stays on Him?

Do you have a favourite memory from a past Christmas? Why is it special to you?

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Advent Waiting

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There are many synonyms for ‘advent’ – beginning, start, dawn, initiation – but I like ‘introduction’.  Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the Christian church calendar and its four weeks are meant to be a time of expectation, anticipation and preparation for the coming of Jesus the Christ. However, it’s also a time when I’m re-introduced to the significance of my faith – that the whole point of his coming was to atone for my sinfulness.

That makes the whole Christmas story very personal because, believe me, when someone dies for you, it can’t be anything but personal!

On this first week of Advent I begin my annual wait in hope, in awe and in gratitude.

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“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever …
I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.” [Psalm 89:1]
 
 “And now, Lord, what do I wait for and expect? My hope and expectation are in you.” [Psalm 39: 7] 
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” [Hebrews 6:19a] 
“But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.” [Psalm 71: 14]

 

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Waiting in Hope

We sang, “Hope is a Star” yesterday in church, and lit the first candle to mark the start of another Advent season. Wikipedia says the term comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming, and that Advent is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”

Not just “waiting”, but “expectant waiting”. Not a passive sit-back-and-wait-until-it-gets-here kind of waiting, but a time of active participation that gives meaning to our Christian hope.

In my last two novels there are scenes that take place at Christmas. For one character it is a time of anticipation, for the other, despair. While I was writing I had to remind myself that life is like that – different for different people. Not everyone approaches the Christmas season with the same joy that I experience.

But most have hope.

What do your characters hope for? As you enter this Advent season, what do you hope for?

I Didn’t Want to Know That!

Stumbling from the bedroom early this morning I clicked on the television. The first words uttered by the news anchorman were that Christmas is exactly two weeks away. I didn’t want to know that! Truly I didn’t.

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Yes, there is a decorated tree in our family room and the outside lights are up. That makes it sound like I’m well prepared, but guess what? I’m not. That’s just an annual trick to give the illusion that everything is under control. As is the case almost every year at this time, my cards aren’t written, the baking isn’t done, the shopping’s not finished and the gifts that need to be mailed out of town aren’t.

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But this evening I will join a group of carolers from our church singing for shut-ins and my heart will feel ready for Christmas. Advent is all about preparation, not of home but of heart. These first two weeks of Advent have focused on Hope and Peace. The next two will be about Joy and Love. When I return to my cards, baking and gifts, I will be remembering with joy those for whom these items are meant, and giving thanks to Him whose Love created Christmas.

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On the Cusp

Here we are, on the cusp of December, with Advent just under way and NaNoWriMo concluding. I’m pretty sure these three events have nothing in common except their timing, but each of them gives me reason to rejoice.

December,

not quite winter, no longer autumn – brings the chickadees and varied thrush rushing to chow down at our freshly filled bird feeders (surely the bears have gone to bed by now).

Advent,
time of preparation and anticipation — four weeks in which to align our hearts with heaven’s promise and prepare ourselves and our homes for the coming Gift.

NaNoWriMo,
concluding “thirty days and nights of literary abandon” — ready now to ease out of a crazy race of words against calendar and wonder about the potential of the emerging novel.

Then again, maybe they do have something in common. Potential.

What do you think?

Thirty Days Hath November

Today November ends and Advent starts.

 

Thus begins another new year in the Christian church calendar and the countdown to another Christmas. We begin our preparation of hearts and homes, readying ourselves for the annual celebration of the most significant event in history, the arrival of the One who was born to die. That’s a timeless mystery but not a secret, and it brings the humbling realization that Someone cared that much… for me.