Beginning the Countdown: “We’re All Broken”

Christmas is nearly here, and I’m not ready.

This overwhelming feeling of not being prepared, though, isn’t because I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping or cookie-baking or gift-making or travel-plans-arranging (though of course I haven’t).

It’s not that I’m not ready for Christmas. It’s that I’m not yet ready for Advent to be over.

How can it be that even when you light candles in your living room and watch the the circle of tea lights getting brighter and brighter, even when you try really hard to avoid listening to the cheery Christmas carols announcing the already-born Savior, even when you have been wearing long underwear for three weeks trying to stay warm in a drafty old house in central Kentucky, how can it be that Advent is slipping by you and you haven’t even taken the time to be still?

Well, now I sit in a frigid, unfurnished basement with a genuine Grandma-made afghan around my shoulders, having nearly finished everything that had been looming over my head from last week. And I’m wondering how I can be still and prepare my heart in the very few days that are left before Advent is over and we move into a new season, a season of feasting rather than fasting, of celebration rather than yearning, of joy rather than preparation.

I don’t know the answer, truth be told, but since our weekend turned out to be unexpectedly packed full of Over the Rhine music, I’ve got it seeping out of my pores. And so to Over the Rhine I am turning to help me countdown the last few days of Advent.

Last summer I asked OtR’s Linford Detweiler about the way their music tends to (what I call) “sacramentalize” ordinary, lived experience, finding beauty in brokenness. His answer is where I want to start this week:

Take the unwillingness to divide the world into sacred and secular, or an unwillingness to divide the world into the broken and the unbroken—we see that those divisions cannot be made. We’re all broken, and it’s all sacred. So that is sort of where we try to live. And if we fail, on a personal level, I think songs can remind us what we aspire to.*

Take a deep breath and then read it again. And then one more time.

That is Advent.

We’re all broken, and it’s all sacred.

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* Excerpts from our conversation can be found here on the Christianity Today website.

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List-Making & Advent

My sister-in-law recently opened an old notepad and found a hand-written list from a few decades ago.

photo-7It was in a childish curly cursive, and at the top of the list was the name “Liz.”

That is me. It was my list.

I have no idea what the story is behind the items on that list—I only had a goldfish for 48 hours before it died a tragic death, but I did have a troll and I did love Tetris. Seeing these scribbles from my childhood makes me happy, though, because the truth is, I am a compulsive list maker. And now I have proof that I always have been!

Lists keep me calm when my mind is running a mile a minute before a trip, keep me organized at the grocery store, remind me of the items I need to do, need to ask the doctor, need to send e-mails about, need to…need to… need to…

In a nutshell, lists help me prepare for what is to come.

And that’s what Advent is all about—preparation.

Here we are in the third week of Advent already. That pink candle of the third Sunday is to remind us—and reassure us—that we’re more than halfway to Christmas! That there is joy coming into the world very very very soon. That even as we remember why Christ needs to come again every year—because this is a broken world—we also remember that he already came, bringing joy into that brokenness, and will come again, bringing joy into our brokenness.

But that pink candle of the third Sunday also does something else—it reminds those of us who feel like time is slipping away from us that we better GET OUR REAR ENDS PREPARED. Christmas is a-coming.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time living in the present moment. It is hard to slow down and breathe and pray in this season. I’m being circumnavigated by a toddler at all times, I can’t even remember if I’ve brushed my teeth this morning, and the last time I looked at my calendar I swear it was only October.

The season I’m living in doesn’t much feel like the season of Advent.

The season I’m living in makes it hard to prepare my heart for Christmas, to say the least, which is rapidly sneaking up on me.

There’s not much I need more than a kick in the pants.

So I think I’ll go put that at the top of my to-do list this morning.

To do:

Kick in the pants.

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I realize nobody else is paying attention to these things, but on the off chance you are, you can make note that this is not a recycled, 3-year-old post. It’s my contribution to our church’s annual Advent devotional guide for this year.

Baking Bread & A Free Book for Advent

Today we welcome Thomas Turner, of Everyday Liturgy, 
Who shares about bread, Advent, and his new free e-book!

I love baking bread.

I love the messy hands, the flour on your shirt, the kneading and scraping and careful watching so that you get the crust and the crumb just perfect. I have this great recipe that makes bread that is warm and crackly goodness. It gets rave reviews. Yet it takes a lot of time. Over 24 hours!

For times when we just need bread and have not prepared, we have a great quick bread recipe we found on Pinterest that only takes a few hours. That recipe makes some good bread. But to get great bread, fantastic bread―the kind that makes you feel like you really could live on bread and water alone―you need a time of preparation to make that kind of bread.

Page 1We all know what Christmas should be like. I am certain all of us have the Christmas season and its routines so ingrained in us that we can pull off a nice Christmas party or a rendition of the Christmas story without stressing out too much. But to have a great Christmas, one that is profound and worshipful, we need to prepare. Like great bread, the difference between having a good Christmas and a meaningful Christmas is going to be how we prepare.

The “O Antiphons” are one way that Christians for over 1500 years have been preparing their hearts, souls, minds and bodies to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Advent, Christmas. To help you and me prepare (Lord knows I need this as well!), I am releasing the prayer book O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season starting today. In this book, I have given a fresh reading of the O Antiphons, along with an Old and New Testament scripture reading and a meditation with discussion questions to guide you during the last week of Advent. From December 17th to December 23rd, you can use this prayer book to prayerfully come into the presence of the baby Jesus, born of a virgin, fully God and fully human in form, who is Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord, the Savior promised from David’s line, our Eternal Light, the King who unites all peoples and our Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us.

Starting today, you can pick up your free copy of O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season on Noisetrade. And if you are truly in the Christmas spirit, all of the Noisetrade tips I receive on the book will go toward a nice gift for Jana Miller, who contributed awesome illustrations that you can turn into Christmas or Jesse tree decorations, and toward ending everyday violence against the poor.

Have a Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!

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Thomas Turner is the Strategic Partnerships Research Manager at International Justice Mission and curates Everyday Liturgy, a source for worship and liturgical ideas. He is happy to be living back below the Mason-Dixon line again after a lengthy sojourn in the NYC metro area. You can follow Thomas online, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Pregnancy, Advent, & All That Dang Waiting

Here’s my contribution to our church’s annual Advent devotional (this year available in blog form). The theme for the first week of Advent is “Hope for Those Who Wait.”

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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

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Heading into Advent in 2011, I was sixteen or seventeen weeks pregnant, and the decision on everyone’s mind, it seemed, was whether or not we would decide to find out if our firstborn was to be a boy or a girl. Jonathan wouldn’t weigh in on the decision at all, so it was up to me. Did I want to know, or didn’t I? Were there good reasons to wait, or was the ability to plan and manage and organize for a few months before the birth necessary for my sanity? And perhaps most importantly, did I like yellows and greens better than pinks and blues? These were the questions on my scatterbrained mind.

advent pregnancyI wasn’t thinking much about the baby Jesus.

Then came the ultrasound appointment during the third week of Advent, and call me crazy, but I woke up that morning with a revelation: pregnancy is Advent.

Both are seasons of preparation and expectation and waiting.

As we wait in both, we think we know of the joys to come—new life, sweet baby gurgles, heart-soaring happiness…the birth of Christ. And we think we know of the pains to come—labor and delivery, lack of sleep, emotional chaos…the crucifixion.

But for a few weeks, be it four or forty neverending long ones, we wait and we hope, and we wait and we prepare, and we wait and we wait and we wait.

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Excuses, Schmexcuses: Loving Our Neighbors, Loving Ourselves

Advent is here, friends. Today, my little family will be putting together the sad Christmas tree that has endeared itself to us over the years. We might put some greenery on the mantle. Drink some hot cocoa. We’ve even got an Advent playlist with about a half-dozen versions of O Come, O Come Emmanuel on it.

It’s New Years Day as far as the church is concerned, so let’s celebrate!

This morning in church, the Thanksgiving baskets our church distributed last week in our community were mentioned and thanks were given to everyone who donated. This morning in church, we were told about the work the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is doing overseas and we were encouraged to give to the annual Christmas missions offering. This morning in church, I was handed a packet of paper with information about a low-income family in our community, a family our Sunday school class will be providing gifts for this holiday season. This morning in church, we were reminded about the myriad activities we’ve got going on throughout Advent and Christmas, the ways we can participate and give and do lots of good.

My point is this: we are doing lots of good in the world. Let’s take a moment and pat ourselves on the back, shall we?

*pat, pat*

Riiiiight.

Like I’m letting us off the hook that easy.

Sure, we are doing lots of good. We are. I am. You probably are, too.

But since it’s the first Sunday of Advent, and it’s kind of Texas Schmexas tradition to toss a little guilt in to start off the year, let’s be introspective for a moment and ‘fess up.

We aren't really loving our neighbors as ourselves.*

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