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25 Days of Advent: Declutter

One of the seemingly hopeless aspects of Christmas is decluttering. Not only is there the routine cleaning, but the additional decor sometimes gets in the way. For example, my new Deebot keeps getting stuck in the tree skirt.

As an assortment of gifts multiply under the tree, I wish I could ignore the stacks of boxes going unsorted in my basement. What treasures must be buried there? Maybe there is something I could re-gift. If only I was as good at labeling those boxes.

Time during the Christmas season becomes cluttered, too. There are gifts to be made and purchased. Events require attendance.

The only thing decluttering is my diminishing bank account.

Yet, everything gets done–eventually. Time must be made for the most important things. People require attending as well. There are gifts to give and receive. Something happens when we take the time to give acts of service, words of encouragement, and hugs. Maybe the best thing we can do is spend quality time listening over coffee and cookies.

After all, those boxes in the basement aren’t going anywhere. They can wait until January.

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25 Days of Advent: First Snow

December 5 is a bit late for the first accumulating snow. But, then, Minnesota weather is rarely predictable. A week ago, I could go outside without a jacket. I think that won’t be the case until at least April. Maybe May.

Yet, there is comfort in the predictable unpredictability of weather. Bleak days are often followed by brilliant ones. Sometimes both happen in the same twenty-four hours–the clouds barely outlined with a hidden glimmer until they can no longer hold back the streaming gleam. On those days, hope becomes visible with glinting snow and gently melting ice. On those days, I ignore the weather report and simply gaze in amazement.

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25 Days of Advent: Coffee Crew

On December 4, I traversed the storm to meet with my six college friends for our monthly coffee gathering. Somehow we have managed to meet most months over the past twenty-one years. Sometimes we can’t all be there, but the effort is made. We set times and places to share about the mundane and the exciting. We chat and laugh over nothing. We listen and cry over the significant. We rejoice. We sorrow.

We have traversed some storms together. Yet, more often than not, we have celebrated the reliefs in life. Somehow we make it back to the familiar times and places of warm comfort found in lifetime friendship.

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25 Days of Advent: The First Sunday of Advent

On this first Sunday of Advent, I am reflecting on the tradition of Advent in my own life. The notion of celebrating Advent was introduced to me in my high school years. Each Sunday of Advent, candles were lit in our services to represent the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. My family participated in reading during one of these candle lightings, and we read a poem written by my grandmother. As a college student and young-married adult, I was invited to write for the Advent booklet distributed among the congregants. I continued contributing at the next church we attended as well.

Although this tradition was practiced in our church, my childhood family did not practice the candle lighting at home. I received an Advent wreath as a wedding gift and displayed it for years without actually lighting the candles. It wasn’t until my sons were old enough to understand and after I received a wooden Advent calendar cabinet from my mother that we began to celebrate each Sunday of Advent in this way.

Seventeen years later, I am now cognizant of how this tradition has shaped our family’s preparation for Christmas morning. Some years, I filled the Advent calendar cabinet with Hershey kisses and Bible readings. Later years, I included Lego mini-figurines. When the boys were young, we read a story series on Sunday evenings before lighting the candle display. I published While Bethlehem Sleeps in 2012, and we used that format for our readings.

The paint of the original wreath is chipped now, and the candle tapers are in various stages of use. Hope’s candle has dripped the lowest because it is always lit first. Even after replacing the wreath with a wrought iron holder for pillars, that first candle curls more than the others. Somehow hope always seems to work the hardest to retain its flame.

Some years were harder than others to maintain our weekly vespers. There were moans and groans, and not just from the kids. For this reason, we put faith’s action behind our anticipation of the season. Otherwise, our hope threatens to drip too low. Our flame dims. Or it waxes completely.

This year, my youngest son and I are studying Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado. When prompted to consider what we want to gain from the study, we decided the most important thing was to be faithful in completing it together. How easy it is for us to become so distracted with daily living and Christmas doings that we could let this part of our preparations slide! Because Christmas is often a time of busyness, taking time to sit and reflect requires work. We have to be faithful in our following just as much as we are hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving. By gathering together, we remember why we celebrate at this time of year. We give of ourselves so that we may receive and annually retrieve the most important Gift from the manger. We invite Him into our celebration.

After all, it is His incarnate arrival that we commemorate.

 

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25 Days of Advent: Christkindlmarket

On December 2, my husband and I drove to Stillwater, Minnesota to Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter. Although we went to peruse the outdoor Christkindlmarket, we found our treasure within this authentic German restaurant nestled in the pines. I dined on Bavarian Goulaush Soup with spaetzle and red cabbage while my husband enjoyed the daily special–corned beef and cabbage. We shared the delectable raspberry-white chocolate bread pudding. On the way home, we stopped at a local farm to buy Christmas wreaths.

It occurs to me that we may have begun a new tradition. Our boys are too disinterested to appreciate the ambience of such a jaunt for a special-occasion lunch and for wreath-purchasing. We are heading into that stage of life that includes “just the two of us” again. While we listened to Bing, Nat, and Frank with a little Harry Jr. mixed in, we laughed and chatted about everything from Christmas gifts to generational differences. I was reminded anew why I enjoy his company as much as he does mine. Perhaps that is how the best traditions begin.