On Faith: The spiritual journey of Advent

You might imagine that an inspiration article on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend would be about Thanksgiving.

There is an endless range of topics: heart-warming reunion gatherings, remembering all the funny but embarrassing family stories, themes of gratitude amid scarcity, or even how saying "thank you" can make a difference in your daily life.

I could choose any of these Thanksgiving themes. But I won't. Thanksgiving Sunday was last week. Tomorrow begins Advent. Last Sunday was the end of the year. Tomorrow begins a new year! Happy new year!

There will be no fireworks. No lavish parties. No dress-up dinners. No champagne toasts. No countdown in Times Square. There will be candles instead of fireworks, repentance instead of resolutions, prayers instead of parties, contemplation instead of countdowns.

Since the late fourth century, Christians have been starting the worship year with quiet and introspection.

The idea is simple. The holy infant is about to arrive. No one is quite sure when the baby is arriving. The expected due date is Dec. 25.

We are not ready. We are not prepared. What do we have to do to be ready for the baby?

First, clean out the stable. It's a mess. It's been a year since the last time anyone went in the stable. There's a year of manure in the stable.

You know what I am talking about. Bullying and brutality. Words used to harm and wound. Hatreds and angers given more fuel every day. Then there is all the junk. The stuff we want buried and never ever see the light of day. We have it hidden in the stable. (How ironic that the place we hide our secret sins is about to become a blessed and holy site! You got to love God's sense of drama and humor!)

Most of us don't have an actual stable, of course. But we have a year's or longer worth of manure, sins, addictions, and really bad stuff. Advent is the season for starting over, of getting ready for the miracle. It's a time to clean up our act before the holy arrives.

Second, get ready for a trip. Have you noticed that in the Christmas story the people who meet the Holy One have all journeyed to get to the stable? Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The Angels travel from Heaven. The shepherds leave their flocks in the hills. The Magi travel across the Middle East.

The people who don't make a journey miss the event. The people in the inn slept through the Holy Night. They never knew what happened in the storage shed across the parking lot. Herod could have been the fourth King visiting the Baby! But he never left Jerusalem, and ended up living in fear of the baby.

Advent is about making a spiritual journey to see the baby.

What do you pack? What do you leave behind as non essential or harmful? What gift do you bring?

Advent is a season, not a day. We have four weeks to get ready. Every journey is different. We all start in different places and travel different paths. You know the work it takes to go on a journey. Now is the time to get started.

Advent is not about decorating the house or planning the Christmas party or even going back home for Christmas. Advent is a month that we spend focusing on our spiritual life so that we will not sleep through this year's miracle, or spend another year as an unrepentant Grinch.

If tradition is any guide, the more strenuous our Advent, the more likely we will not only encounter Christ this Christmas, but have more blessings along the way than we can ever imagine.

MARK WILEY is pastor of Mesa Verde United Methodist Church in Costa Mesa.

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