Hope – Love – Joy - Peace
By Pastor Jason Sharp
As a pastor, there are two seasons that are pretty high on the priority list: Easter and Christmas. Having been in ministry for a while now, I can attest to a certain amount of stress that both cause, especially it seems Christmas. However, I can also share that the REAL season we’re in brings with it a focus that can relieve stress.
IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS YET!
First, let’s get something straight, it’s not Christmas yet! The Christian calendar begins four Sundays before Christmas with the First Sunday of Advent (this year it happens to be December 3rd). The Christian season for Christmas, literally the 12 days of Christmas from December 25 to January 5, has yet to begin. Retailers, for their part, encourage shopping by pulling the season out of order and confuse consumers into celebrating without truly preparing.
The Journey of Advent
Each of the Sundays in Advent brings a different focus to counter the stresses we experience this time of year, the first Sunday is focused on Hope. With the coming of winter, we are looking at short cold days and long dark nights, this kind of weather can bring with it a kind of pessimism. In a worst-case scenario, we can be mentally impacted by the seasonal affective disorder. In between are the long to-do lists and the thoughts of loved ones passed that can bring us down. However, in Advent, we look to Hope. The natural world is at rest, in hope of the arrival of Spring. Advent can help remind us even in grief that we “grieve with hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Instead of disappointment with Christmas, take a break in Advent to hope.
The second Sunday of Advent is focused on Love. When we are hustling and bustling trying to get our shopping done in a consumer-driven cultural Christmas, Advent calls us to a different expression. It is possible to express love without stress. This time of year we stress out because we are driven to material expressions of love. What if we actually expressed love in a deeper way? Not by spending money, or even throwing extravagant parties, but actually loving your family, friends, and neighbors. Reaching out to loved ones in heartfelt ways, instead of materialistic ways, can destress the season. Taking a moment to serve at a food kitchen is one means of loving. We can also reach out to family or friends with simple notes instead of cards or a simple visit instead of a party. When we spend Advent in love like this, we step outside of stress and experience life-sustaining relationships.
The third Sunday of Advent is focused on Joy. Now we’re talking, right? Yet the focus is radically different than conspicuous consumption through instant gratification or the masked faces that we sometimes have to put on this time of year. Real joy comes from the hope and love that we share. Joy is a result of thankfulness. Joy is the gift of giving from ourselves in service or others. Joy cannot be manufactured or counterfeit. We receive Joy with open hands, instead of trying to stressfully hold on to a fleeting and false sense of joy.
The fourth Sunday of Advent is focused on Peace. Can you imagine a peaceful yuletide? Yes, such a thing exists. When we step away from the hustle and bustle, as we find warmth in hope, love, and joy a reassurance of peace is present as well. So many of us think of the stress caused by tense get-togethers or that ever-present to-do, yet when we live into the ideas of hope against pessimism, love against materialism, and joy against show peace comes. Peace comes from authenticity, simplicity, and living in the present moment.
Christmas is Coming
So, unlike the cursed world of Narnia under the White Witch Christmas is coming. Yet you can look forward to Christmas this year because you are getting ready by maintaining a focus on Advent. Hope, love, joy, and peace are present when we put the emphasis of the season in its proper place. Until the candles are lit and Silent Night is sung at the Christmas Eve service, I wish you and yours a Hope-filled, Joyous, Love-Embraced, and Peaceful Advent.