Christian Seasons Calendar

The Christian Seasons Calendar is now being offered with free shipping.  When ours arrived a couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of Advent, we spent a few minutes looking through the beautiful artwork that will mark the church calendar for us this coming year.

I love the idea behind this calendar and recommend it highly.  Thanks to the folks at University Hill Congregation in Vancouver for making such a beautiful resource available widely.

Three Months Until Christmas

We’ve scaled back our Christmas gift giving over the past few years.  I’m not sure who in my extended family first had the idea, but at some point we began making donations to favorite charities in lieu of presents.  At Christmastime we can count on a few greetings cards letting us know which organization or cause received a gift in our name.  It’s nice, though for me not altogether altruistic.

For starters, the idea of shopping for gifts near the holidays nearly turns my stomach.  At some point we noticed that a time of year that ought to have time for reflection and celebration was instead marked with stress and too much time at the mall and  Eliminating much of our shopping has been one way to reclaim Advent for its more noble possibilities.

We’ve not completely given up Christmas gifts.  I look forward to opening a gift or two from Maggie on Christmas morning almost as much as I enjoy picking out something she’ll enjoy (typically a kitchen gadget of some kind).  Maggie exchanges small gifts with a couple of friends and Eliot will surely have something to open from his parents this year.  That’s about it.  We send a letter and photo to our out-of-town friends and family and call it good.

Last year my mom suggested that the extended family direct our Christmas donations to The Water Project, an organization that brings “relief to communities around the world who suffer needlessly from a lack of access to clean water.”  Enough folks chipped in and a well in rural Sierra Leone was repaired and now provides predictable water for the community of Yams Farm.  Not bad.

Any other tired Christmas shoppers out there? You’ve got three months from today to introduce your family and friends to a new holiday tradition, one that could benefit some of your local or global neighbors.  Not to mention the satisfaction of some extra time to receive Christmas for the gift it is.

Watch for the Light

I was pleased to see my favorite book of Advent readings, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, on Christianity Today’s recent “Top 5 Books on Advent.” There are plenty of reasons to incorporate this book into your other Advent traditions.

First, the book is a collection of writings, organized by days, by many authors.  This morning’s reading was by the Methodist preacher and bishop, William Willimon.  Other contributors include Meister Echart, Madeleine L’Engle, John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth, Dorthy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard and- for the Christmas Day reading- St. John Chrysostom.  Each of the authors provides a different perspective and each brings significant insight to a season that can feel predictable to many of us.

Watch for the Light also brings a theological depth that is easily overlooked during Advent.  During a season of hokey TV specials, bargain shopping and goofy debates about the appropriate greeting (“Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”) this book is a daily reminder of what Christians around the world look forward to on Christmas Day.  An example from today’s reading by Willimon.

Charles Dickens’ story of Scrooge’s transformation has probably done more to from our notions of Christmas than St. Luke’s story of the manger.  Whereas Luke tells us of God’s gift to us, Dickens tells us how we can give to others… The Christmas story- the one according to Luke not Dickens- is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.

Finally- and I suppose this could be true about any collection of daily Advent readings- Watch for the Light is a helpful reminder of the wonder and awe that ought to be inherent to Advent.  I’m prone to miss the breathtaking significance of God taking on flesh; it’s a story I’m too familiar with.  The observations of these authors give me fresh angles to approach the familiar scriptures and old stories.

If you don’t already have a collection of Advent readings, Watch for the Light may be a great place to start.

Any favorite Advent books you’d care to share?

an advent question

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent which, depending on your tradition, may or may not be a big deal.  How do you commemorate Advent? Many churches have special liturgy (prayers and Scripture readings) this time of year.  New Community will be updating our Advent page each Sunday with prayers and readings.

In recent years I’ve been increasingly disturbed at how busy and stressed I can be during December.  As a pastor there is a certain level of unavoidable busyness during Advent, but plenty of my stress is self-induced.  Prioritizing space and boundaries to reflect on Christ’s coming has become very important to me.  Otherwise I blink and realize that Christmas has come and gone.  Not good.

This year I’ve been using The Divine Hours for devotional reading along with New Com’s readings and prayers.  It’s also helped tremendously that much of my extended family has agreed to make charitable donations in lieu of giving gifts.  (It may sound very noble, but I take the most pleasure out of avoiding the mall.)

How about you?  Let us know your habits and traditions with this poll and/or a comment.