The Pastoral Irony of Advent

By Emily Munger 12-16-2014
Piles of holiday boxes. Image courtesy lola1960/shutterstock.com
Piles of holiday boxes. Image courtesy lola1960/shutterstock.com

This is my first Advent as an ordained minister, and I am attempting to quickly learn so many things. Including: what Advent means in different cultural contexts; how to determine the "accurate" themes represented in each Advent candle on the wreath (I've come across at least 4 or 5 different versions thus far); preparing our first discussion series informed by our devotional readings; creating children's worship lessons for the season; writing liturgy and sermons to reflect the mood of the season; and crafting a Christmas Eve service to include children, musical numbers, poetry, and stories.

All this while also correcting 35 final essays, grading 35 final presentations, and finalizing semester grades for my delightful students.

So what's the irony, you ask? Well, in addition to preaching on signs of hope last week, I also spoke about Advent as a space carved out in our church year to wait in eager anticipation of a promise not yet realized. To be still and contemplate the movement of the spirit in the midst of the bustle all around us. To think on hope even when so many are simply thinking of shopping and trips to the mall to snap a photo with Santa.

And yet what do I find myself doing? Anything but waiting, being still, and taking time to ponder hope. Instead, I find myself — not without a sense of guilt — hurrying through the season to get everything checked off my list. After all, in addition to my rather hectic schedule with church and teaching, I also need to maintain my holiday duties as a sister, aunt, daughter, wife, and now mother!

So the question becomes, how do I practice what I preach when I've totally over-committed myself during the Advent season?

My personal answer — the one I establish to counter the sense of guilt that occasionally arises — has thus far been one of deliberately not stressing out, even while still getting things done.

Oh, I want to stress out, believe me. Perhaps my dear husband might even say I do once in a while — but the truth is, I'm trying really hard to maintain a sense of calm contemplation internally, even when the Christmas storm rages around me. That is the hope I find this season, deliberately saying, "Stress be gone!" Advent is a time to clear our minds and prepare ourselves for the coming hope of Christ by recognizing and responding to the pain we see in others and feel within ourselves as we wait.

By internally re-orienting myself, I've discovered a greater capacity to be present to those who need me during the Advent season, and that feels like the closest I will ever come to practicing what I preach.  Here's to one more week of my best attempt at saying no to stress and yes to waiting patiently for the promise of Christmas.

Reverend Emily Munger is a UCC pastor serving in Columbia, SD.

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