Preparing for opening

Happpppppy New Year!!!  Wait, what?  Am I a month early?  Are my lights on but no one’s home; not the sharpest knife in the drawer; maybe my elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top?  Dec. 1 is not New Year’s for sure, buuuuuut, last Sunday, November 28, was the first Sunday in the liturgical year.  For people of faith, the first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the new year.  It sorta gets lost in the shuffle of the Christmas season and putting up lights and trees and tinsel and ornaments and the Christmas music that plays, yes, even in Home Depot.  There I was in the nuts and bolts aisle (don’t ask) on Saturday, and the song asked me when sleigh bells ring, am I listening?  Evidently in somebody’s lane, snow was glistening.  At 65 degrees here there was no glistening snow going on, but it was a beautiful day to wrap outdoor trees in lights.  It never once occurred to me it was Christian liturgical New Year’s eve, and I didn’t even stay up til midnight – no ball dropping in Time’s Square November 27.

We church nerds are a little odd and you don’t have to agree with that so quickly! Our faith puts us somewhat out of sync with the rest of the world.  While Christmas carols are playing in every store we insist on singing and playing Advent songs, songs of preparation moving us toward the birth of Jesus, no “Little Town of Bethlehem” or “Away in the Manger” for us, not til Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and following.  At least we get “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – where we’re asking for Jesus to come and it feels Christmasy.  The whole “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates, behold the King of glory waits,” isn’t often heard on the Christmas musak in the Home Depots or on the radio stations, not sure Mariah Carey has a version of that though it might be interesting.

What is it about our faith that makes it worthwhile to walk to the beat of a different drummer?  Perhaps the unique reality of our humanity.  I love the lights and the greens and even the tinny Christmas music in all the stores, and I also sometimes experience a melancholy, a little sadness, and some internal reflection as I watch the lights come on at night.  Maybe some of you too?  I wonder between the Christmas wrapping, and the baking (not me, but you other people), and the family gathering travel arrangements and the holiday parties, I wonder what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph, for Zechariah and Elizabeth, for those old prophets Simeon and Anna, for some nameless shepherds, and even the wise guys coming from afar.  Side note:  You know why the wise men had ashes on their feet when they arrived in Bethlehem . . . wait for it . . . Because they came from a – far(fire)! O.k., now that’s kinda funny.  Anyway, somewhere in the mix of these weeks leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I’m so very aware of how human the story really is.  There was fear and joy; excitement and so much weariness; a glimpse of understanding the magnificence of God along with so. much. mystery.  It is finally a story about faith in regular, ordinary, common people – not unlike you and me.  And I wonder (as I wander out under the sky . . . sorry, I digress once again) I wonder how we would have, and how we currently do, respond to the in-breaking presence of the mystery that is God.

It seems all too many of us have already determined for God what God wants and whose side God is on in all these polarized battles we have with one another.  Do we allow for any mystery in the stars dotting our clear night skies – maybe open our imaginations to one star that may seem brighter than the others?  Do we leave enough room, in our schedules along with our hearts, to be surprised by the startling and unexpected sound of new life, regardless of our situations or age?

There are essentially four weeks of preparation for opening our hearts and lives to God’s in-breaking in the form of Jesus’ birth, God’s crossing the boundary between heaven and earth, God’s gift of being with us and the promise we would never be without God.  I hope these weeks have such special moments, glimpses, pauses in time that we know we are in the presence of the holy waaaaay before Christmas Eve.  And may those moments become the gifts that while not wrappable or unwrappable, are the best gifts of all.