I wonder why we sometimes feel that we need a survival guide for this particular time of year?
Could it be that as clergy the greatest dangers for us during Advent lie in our expectations of ourselves? Most of us are eager to please and we rejoice in the opportunity to share in, and to contribute to, the magic and mystery of God’s love especially as we remember the arrival of Jesus into our world. In quieter moments, we cannot help but notice the families that are struggling financially and/or emotionally to keep up with the pace of a season that begins not that many weeks after Father’s Day in the secular world. We may be tempted to allow the commercial aspects of the Christmas season to dominate our thinking, and convince ourselves that ‘no one’ really cares and so sink into a cloud of despondence.
Once we start along this path, we may find ourselves weighed down by more and more anxieties for the people of this world, for ourselves and our families and for all of creation. Maybe we need not just a guide, but an entire survival kit.
So, let us rewind and take stock.
It may be tempting to spend the final weeks of the calendar year (which, by the way, are the first weeks of the Church year) railing against the commercial activities that begin up to three months before Christmas Day. A viable alternative is to see that first piece of tinsel in the local shopping mall as a reminder to start your own preparations for this precious season.
How are you feeling? Has this been a good year for you – one that finds you now in a great headspace for the waiting and preparation of Advent? Or are you about as low as you can go just now? Has it been a tough year in the family, in your faith journey, in your health stakes? Can you feel yourself tightening your personal reins and preparing to ride this through? Or, do you in fact simply wonder how you will even begin to manage all that is expected of you?
Do not let Advent arrive in a rush and Christmas leave you bowled over.
I invite you to do a personal stocktake now:
When did you last see your general practitioner – even clergy get sick and need regular health checks.
When did you last talk with your spiritual director – even clergy need spiritual checks and help in recognising where God is in their life.
When did you last check in with your family – even clergy need to be reminded to cherish their close relationships. How are these relationship going? Is all well or do you just want to believe it is because you have been too busy to even notice the little dramas, let alone respond to them creatively.
When did you last pray – really pray – and earnestly engage God in a conversation about God’s invitations in your life, about your fears and anxieties for yourself perhaps, for your family, for your congregation, for creation?
When did you last consciously make time for yourself to read a book, walk on a beach, watch the sun rise and listen for the birds?
When did you last smile? I mean really smile – one of those big pancake smiles that spread across your face and crinkle your eyes and flash joy to the world?
Are you ready for the grief that is inevitably rekindled in some people’s lives by Christmas and perhaps even your own life?
Will you recognise the levels of stress and anxiety that come with the enormous expectations that society in general, and families in particular, have of this season?
Have you put aside a designated time for a meaningful celebration with your friends and family and colleagues or will they just have to accept the leftovers?
Have you checked your sermons for crumbs of cynicism and despair?
Do not merely ‘survive’ Christmas this year – instead prepare yourself to both relish the mystery and face the challenges.
On Christmas morning be ready to kneel in awe at the wonder of a God who came to us as a vulnerable babe and allow that awe and wonder to draw forth from you a great celebratory chortle of delight in God’s love.
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