30 Nov In Each Heart a Bethlehem
I woke up on Monday in a near-total panic. The voice in my head was screeching at triple-fortissimo, “Oh my heavens, it’s December and I have no idea what I’m preaching on Sunday, much less what my theme for Advent is.” [Editor’s note: some people have nightmares about falling out of airplanes or speaking in public in one’s underwear, but preachers’ sleep suffers from the disturbing reality that Sunday comes every seven days, whether we are ready or not.]
To appreciate the significance of this rude awakening, you need to understand that I am a planner. On steroids. To the extreme. As in, I may need professional intervention. Last year I started planning Advent in September, and I was one happy camper come December. But not this year. This year I am behind. So, SO behind, and there is little that causes me more stress than working from behind the eight-ball, so to speak.
It helps a little knowing that this year, there was just no avoiding this situation. Illness, death, and family crises came too fast and furious to outrun, as if running would have been a good idea anyway. Thus, I approach the end of this year with gratitude—grateful to have endured, grateful for the lessons of grief, grateful for a supportive church family, grateful for the resolution of some of the concerns that have been plaguing my family. To be sure, 2017 has held many blessings, celebrations and special times with people I love, but I will not be sorry to see the calendar turn to 2018.
I have been encouraged over these months by family, friends and parishioners alike to have a little grace with myself, and I have endeavored to do that. It is part of what it means to “practice what I preach” and part of being a healthy leader. Yet even so, Advent is here, and I was struck Monday morning by how stressed and harried I felt in contrast to the invitation of Advent to experience exactly the opposite: to slow down, wait, anticipate, prepare and watch for the arrival of God’s new work among us. In reflecting on the gap between the two, I was convicted that worship is essential to my Advent season. I cannot bring the message of Emmanuel, God With Us, if I am not experiencing Emmanuel myself.
So, this week I have been paying attention to my worship. I worship when I walk in the morning. I worship when I sigh a prayer of thankfulness for the early-winter sky, the changing leaves, the dance of the stars. I worship in the car as I rock out to Christmas music. (One of my alter egos thinks she is Mariah Carey.) I worship as I write sermons, bulletins and blogs. I worshiped last weekend with my family as my 20-something year old daughter insisted she could not wait one more second to decorate for Christmas. (This is the one season where we adhere to the philosophy that “more is more.” After Sunday night, everything that wasn’t actively breathing and moving in my house was covered in something red, green or sparkly.)
This year I am also worshiping through the poems of Ann Weems. Since perhaps I am not the only one this week to have fear strike the heart by the length of one’s “to do” list, I invite you to take a few moments to read and worship. This poem comes from her book, Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas, and I highly recommend it.
In Search of Our Kneeling Places
by Ann Weems
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.
Emmanuel is With Us,