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I Wonder as I Wander through Advent

  • Tom Ehrich Religion News Service
  • 2010 15 Dec
I Wonder as I Wander through Advent

(RNS) -- This year we bought a small Christmas tree. We couldn't afford $90 for a larger tree, or maybe we chose not to afford it. I wonder if our family Christmas will be diminished by a small tree.

We will be giving fewer and simpler gifts this year, too. Same reasons: can't, or won't. I wonder if anyone gathered around the tree on Christmas morning will feel slighted or unloved.

That isn't a sarcastic wondering. I truly wonder what will be the impact of a lean Christmas. We are a close family, and one expression of our closeness has been generous giving at Christmas and birthdays.

Does anything get lost if our material giving ratchets down? I know the answer should be "no." But still I wonder. We're all children at heart, and the glorious sight of a new bicycle under the tree never quite gets replaced by other "stars of wonder."

Last Friday, I saw some glimpses of God's answer:

On Friday evening, the gospel choir in which I sing held a Christmas party for church leaders. They asked me to say grace and stood silently for me to speak. "Let's sing!" I said, and started "Joy to the World." A one-bedroom apartment jammed with people was suddenly filled with Christmas joy.

Earlier in the day, my oldest son took me to lunch at a hottest-of-the-hot restaurant. It was great fun. Our lunches mean a lot to me. Best of all, however, was walking uptown afterward and talking.

Before lunch, I took further steps in scoping out a new project for enabling people to connect. Although congregations tend to focus on Sunday worship, I am convinced that what people need are relationships and care. They yearn for human contact, being known by name, having someone ask about their failing parent or job search. They long to know that in a vast and busy society a few people think about them.

It is what Jesus gave, and it is by far the hardest dimension of a faith community's work. It's easy to do worship, easier still to pursue a cause. Loving other people can be tough duty, sometimes the last thing we want to do. And yet our need for love is intense.

Right now I'm in the stage of exploring, thinking, talking, imagining and testing solutions. It's 90 percent confusing at this stage. But I sense pieces falling into place. Friday brought major strides, all because I asked others for help.

In these three glimpses in one ordinary day, what was God saying?

First, get outside your head and into song. Unlock that part of your being that responds to song. Let songs, not appetite or purchases, express your nature. If, as Hebrew exiles discovered, it is hard to sing God's song in a strange land, keep trying. Don't fill your head with commercial jingles.

Second, cling to the ones you love. God took on human flesh because human flesh is where God is known. We are God's beloved because we have a capacity to love God in return. We can give thanks for love, extend love to others, allow love to change us in basic ways, making us a new creation.

Third, ask for help. Whatever the need, God has given us to each other. Sure, we want to be smart, capable and self-sufficient. But we can't do it alone.

That's a lot to learn in a single day. God is with us.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

c. 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: December 15, 2010


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Let go of the busyness and stress of the holiday season and open your heart and mind to peace by experiencing the joy of Jesus' birth as you use 12 Advent Prayers! Finding quiet time during the holidays will help you reflect on the reason for Christmas and preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ's birth. Let us know in the comments how you are preparing your heart!