By Ed Thompson
“Watch” seems to be the theme for the season of Advent. We are to watch for the signs of our Lord’s coming. We are to stay awake so that the day does not catch us by surprise. It’s easy to be worn down, though, by the ongoing stress of life. Things are never as easy as they could be. Seldom do our plans work out exactly as we thought they would. As Roseanne Roseannadanna, Gilda Radner’s character on “Saturday Night Live,” used to say, “It’s always something.”
It’s easy to be discouraged, too, if our church attendance hasn’t returned to its pre-Covid levels or if pledges fall short of what we anticipated. For many pastors, if not most, it’s stressful to realize that Christmas falls on Sunday once again this year. That means we need to figure out what to do for church that morning or even whether to have regular worship then knowing that Christmas Eve is often the biggest service of the year, the time when you pull out all the stops, and that a service on Christmas morning is probably going to be poorly attended and maybe not worth doing at all. Knowing that you’re not going to make everyone happy regardless of what you decide to do – or not do – on that morning is enough to make your head hurt. (It certainly makes me glad that I’m not a local church pastor facing this calendar conundrum.)
It’s all too easy to get so caught up with everything that’s going on around us that we forget to watch, to pay attention, to stay spiritually awake. Taking five minutes at the end of each day to reflect on what we have seen during the past 24 hours may be enough, however. For if we are watching, we will see signs of generosity. This past Tuesday, Nov. 29, was Giving Tuesday. I gave to my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, and was inundated by emails asking me to give to a variety of other causes. It will be interesting to see how much money for charitable causes was generated on this day. OK, it’s a gimmick, but it encourages generosity, and that’s a good thing. We can also watch for Salvation Army kettles – which may or may not be out there this year. We might also notice “mitten trees” or “angel trees” encouraging donations for the homeless or for children and families. Maybe we have a Christmas Joy Gift coin box in our house. Seeing it at each meal or even several times a day can remind us to give. There are signs of generosity all around us if we watch for them.
We can also watch for children. Yes, there will be children having temper tantrums, wailing because they are tired or because they really don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap or because their parents aren’t buying them what they think they want. But there will also be children showing signs of awe, overwhelmed by the wonder of it all. Maybe it will be the Christmas lights on a neighbor’s house, a completely decorated Christmas tree, a gentle snowfall, or even what we would consider a cheesy holiday special on TV that gets them. But the look on their faces shows that they do get it and that they may well understand what this season is all about better than we do as adults. Seeing this look can remind us of our own childhood and the memories, as well as the people, we cherish. Yes, spoiled children are out there, but so are the ones touched by joy.
We can also watch for Jesus. We’ll probably see more snowmen, more Santas, and maybe even more red-nosed reindeer on display during the holiday season, but Jesus will be there too. Most often, he’ll be accompanied by Mary and sometimes Joseph as well. There may also be shepherds and wisemen standing by along with a few sheep, a couple of camels, and some cattle. Our secular Christmas season can overwhelm Advent if we let it. Our busyness and discouragement can blind us to the signs that demonstrate God is still at work in our midst. However, those signs are there if we can remember to take the time to watch. May you have a blessed Advent and catch at least a glimpse of the wonders of God’s love that are all around us.