A friend of mine who happens to be a Director of Religious Education at a parish in Northern Wisconsin held an Advent family night this past week. It was the first ever at the parish and was a big hit. I got to see what was happening all night long because of a fantastic teen reporter who covered the event. The video was wobbly, spontaneous, and fun, but it cut off most of the adults from the neck up, so I suspect the reporter was not very tall, but very articulate. His commentary was delightful. He talked about each activity and how it related to Advent and would ad-lib with his own comments about how great things looked or how busy the hallways were or how much fun people were having.
This parish is in one of the poorest counties in Wisconsin. The area has a very depressed economy and there is an overall disillusionment that is palpable. But the parish is tough. This parish continues to reach out, to offer welcome and hospitality and to be a sign of light and hope to the community. It’s not easy for the pastor and staff at times. They would love to see mass attendance grow, and events well attended, but they are faithful and hopeful that those things are just around the corner.
To me, they are doing exactly what we all should be doing in Advent. Shining a light on hope, on goodness, on gratitude, community, and joy. It was making way for families to readjust their lives a bit and make time before Christmas with Jesse Tree ornaments and an Advent wreath. It was a reminder that the parish community – along with the world-wide Church – would be preparing as well using the same Scripture readings, the same Advent wreath, and traditions that open our hearts to the beauty of the Nativity and of Emmanuel. These lovely things bring a home into a state of preparation and anticipation for the birth of Jesus and help us feel connected in a big and beautiful way.
Advent must also be a time for personal readiness- a time to reflect on how we prepare the way for Jesus to come into the world. Jesus enters into chaos and sin and changes things in a radical way. He does this in our hearts as well as the world. It’s an enormous concept! So how does welcome and hospitality fit into the preparation for Jesus at Christmas? These five ways should enlighten as well as challenge us to live an intentional Advent this year.
- Pray for opportunities to welcome and offer kindness, hospitality and generosity. You may find this in unexpected places and unusual ways. Look for the people who are in need. The lonely, forgotten, the stressed, the hurt and the grieving. A light is needed in the darkness here in so many ways. Offering to make a meal, to wrap gifts, to watch a child, to put flowers on a grave, to go out for coffee. Be open to the moment and listen closely to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. You will not wait for long!
- Say yes. If someone needs a favor, a little help, a shift covered, a child picked up from school or a ride to the pharmacy – say yes. Think later. These moments are put into your path so God can be made evident! That is what is at the heart of Advent – preparing the way for Jesus to come into the world. When we carry the burdens of others, they are more free to see God in the world as well.
- Offer hospitality in the ways you can. If you have a home – open it up to friends and family, co-workers and anyone who might be in your circle of influence. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just hot cocoa and Christmas cookies or tea and cake. When you make yourself a bit vulnerable, it does not go unnoticed. Don’t worry about things being perfect, pristine, and fancy. Just be your genuine self and be present to those invited. By doing this, it helps others see that taking a risk, offering our selves and what we have to others is community, and it feels good to belong to something authentic, generous and kind.
- Don’t be afraid to share your faith. If you love Christmas and are touched deeply by the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, share it with others! If words are not your thing – your actions will be loud enough. How do you do Christmas? Are you frenzied and stressed, spending and worrying or are you different, putting the heart of the season at the forefront in spite of the pressure around you? A peaceful heart and home are what most people strive to have, but in our culture it’s elusive and mysterious. Share with others just how this can be in such a commercialize world. It will shake them up!
- Be intentional about welcoming and hospitality wherever you find yourself during Advent. Offer those gifts to all and everyone you meet. Take a bit of time in the next day or two to write a little game plan. How will you offer welcome and hospitality to those you encounter each day – coaches, teachers, clerks, cashiers, waitresses and hosts, taxi drivers and mail deliverers. Be the kind of person who acknowledges and thanks those who serve you.
Finally, may you be as persistent and courageous as that little town up north and against all odd find ways to bring the light of Jesus – Emmanuel – into your corner of the world. Let welcome and hospitality be your mantra this Advent and may you be blessed with courage, joy and passion as you light the way for others to find Jesus this Christmas.