Advent is here, the wonderful season marking the beginning of the liturgical church year.
Many of us look forward to this season with mixed feelings. We want to simplify and take time for spiritual practices that help us refocus and prepare for our celebration of the birth of Christ, but for many churches it is the busiest time of the year. Christmas pageants and multiple services compete with the frenzy of Christmas shopping, parties, and other celebrations. We want to simplify but are easily distracted from our goals. We know that we will probably eat too much, spend too much, and party too much.
By the time Christmas comes around we are exhausted and feel guilty because the rest and refreshment we so desperately need did not happen. How do we help both ourselves and our congregations prepare for this season? Here are some Advent tips to consider and encourage your congregations to think about.
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Consider a pre-Advent retreat to help set your priorities for the season before the frenzy hits. Talk about how to reduce stress, simplify, and refresh. My husband Tom and I always plan a couple of days to retreat in the middle of November. It is a great time to think about our priorities and block out time for spiritual reflection and prayer.
In his book In Search of Sacred Places, Daniel Taylor very helpfully writes, “A desirable simplicity entails the recognition of what is important in life, coupled with the strength of will to structure one’s daily existence around that recognition.” Retreating before the celebration season kicks into high gear has been one way for us to decide what truly matters and has enabled us to structure our daily life around that recognition.
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Consider ways to simplify. The Center for A New American Dream has some great suggestions on how to simplify the holidays and focus celebrations around relationships rather than material gifts. Encourage your congregation to read through these. Then get together in small groups to discuss how, as a church, you can simplify and declutter your lives this Christmas.
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Plan a gift-making party. The gifts that we most appreciate are those that are specially made for us by friends and family. Handmade cards, kids’ drawings, family photos, and sweaters knitted by your spouse or best friend are some of the gifts that you will probably cherish most for years to come. Suggest to your congregation that the only gifts they give this year be handmade gifts and see what happens.
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Plan “Give Christmas Away” activities. There are lots of possibilities to consider here. You may want to ask parents to help their kids look through their toys and decide what they want to give away. Plan a party for local kids who won’t get much this Christmas and help them celebrate. Or consider some of these ideas that Buy Nothing Christmas has put together.
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Encourage reflection and relaxation rather than busyness and overindulgence. Do we really need another church pageant or Christmas party? Plan some reflective services that contrast with the frenetic and consumptive values of the culture around us. This year we are planning an Advent Photo Challenge that will encourage participants to take time each day to slow down and reflect on scripture verses and the images they conjure for us.
[Tweet “Advent Tip: Plan reflective church services that contrast w/culture’s frenetic/consumptive values”] Increasingly, churches are offering Blue Christmas Services for Longest Night Services too. People who are grieving or are in pain are invited to participate in a liturgy that speaks of God’s love for the grieving.
Is it time to break the Christmas mold? Is it time for all of us to say no to the consumer frenzy, let go of the busyness, and truly enter into the meaning of the season? I encourage you during the month of November to take time with your leadership team and congregation to consider these things. What can you do to slow down, refocus, and make the season more meaningful?
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