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  • Writer's pictureSharon Beck-Doran

Advent: God Together – Setting An Intention For The Christian New Year


Christmas 2016

I pumped up my air pods with the soundtrack from “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996). I needed something today. It was one of those days when my cubicle felt cold and empty. And all the emails are meaningless.

 

I was hoping for “Joy to the World.” Instead Whitney starts singing, “I love the Lord… He heard my cry… And pitied every groan...”

 

As I reflect, I remember Advent seasons past. For so many years I struggled to find hope, wanting to meet the love of my life, imaging the joy we would share together as man and wife and trying to set my restless heart at peace. See what I did there with Advent and the themes?

 

I was never great at dating, but being on my own wasn’t so bad. I got pretty good at being single. Despite my regular self-talk—I’m not desperate, really I’m fine without a man—I wanted to be married.

 

Maybe it was the cultural pressure that said I was half a person without a husband. Maybe it was the desire to cover my sexual shame with a wedding ring. Really, I was just lonely. I felt like everyone had moved to the next phase of life and I was stuck waiting.

 

The Advent Season is an invitation to wait with anticipation. Silly as it feels to compare the coming of the Christ child to finding a man, the anticipation of Advent resonated with me.

 

The word Advent means arrival, specifically of a notable person or event. There’s more than the usual Hope, Peace, Joy and Love themes we reuse every year to tell the story of God’s arrival in human form.

 

We wait for God’s intervention. Advent is a time to remember when we encountered the divine. We hope for the next moment when God will show up… it always gives me a sense of excitement. Even though it’s not the traditional Christmastime thrill.

 

Most of us are not great at waiting. I think of the doctor’s office, the Starbucks drive through or that time in between clicking a link and when the web site loads. Maybe you’re reading this now, waiting for me to get to the point.

 

These four weeks before Christmas are meant for waiting, but not the kind you’re thinking of.

 

I prayed that God would send me a husband every day for many years. But I also recognized that the time I spent on my own was valuable. I needed to work on myself. When I finally found someone to share my life with I wanted to be the best possible version of me that I could be.

 

That’s a different kind of waiting. When we wait for something with anticipation, we don’t settle in to passively watch for signs of progress. When we wait with expectation, we get our shit together so we can be ready for what comes next.  

 

I have thought, sang and written a lot about waiting for the Lord. Here’s an excerpt from a litany I wrote in 2011 titled “Prepare the Way” based on Isaiah 40.1-11

 

How can we be ready?  How can we prepare the way for the salvation of the world?  As we wait on the LORD with eager anticipation we are often distracted and forgetful.  Just like Israel we see our sin, our unfaithfulness, or small number and we wonder how we will ever be great again?  But Isaiah reminds us that our salvation will never come from ourselves, and together we continue to proclaim that our salvation comes from God alone.

 

What does it look like to prepare the way for the salvation of the world? That’s a big concept for sure.

 

I don’t mean to disagree with myself and this compelling statement of faith, but I’m not sure that our salvation comes from God alone. I think God’s salvation might actually come from God together.

 

Let me explain what I mean.

 

Most of us wait until the new calendar year to reflect on the past, but actually, for Christians, the New Year starts now with Advent. Instead of recounting our resolutions and goals to measure success, we retell stories of our faith. We recount the times when everything seemed hopeless and God sent salvation.

 

I know that word “salvation” has a lot of baggage. Evangelicals talk a lot about getting saved. Certainly, Christmas is about Emmanuel—God with us, the incarnation. But is it possible that our emphasis on personal salvation, a personal relationship, etc. has made us a little self-centered?

 

I regret none of my prayers for a husband. But my vision of what God’s intervention might look like was at times a little small.

 

In 2014 I decided to try something different. I wanted to inspire people to look for opportunities to show kindness. I recruited my friend-zoned future husband, Adam, to help. We met up at QuikTrip. I bought a $100 gift card and told him to go buy people’s gas while our friend from church filmed.[1]


The next week I took a few kids, including my future step-daughter, to the Kansas City Rescue Mission (now Shelter KC). We handed out cookies and hot cocoa to men waiting to check into the shelter for the night. I recorded a voice over, talking about my parents who helped run a rescue mission in Santa Cruz, CA. I talked about living my parent’s legacy of kindness. “I’m living under the influence of grace,” I had the kids say.[2]

 

During week three of advent that year our youth group serenaded some folks that were stuck at home.[3] For the grand finale, love, we set up at the Country Club Plaza with signs that said “Free Hugs for Christmas.”[4] 

 

In 2015 we launched the Kindness Challenge Bigger and Better. I decided to delegate. Instead of producer, I became creative director and assigned other groups to create content.

 

By 2016 I was worn out, but I still wanted to see Kindness go viral. So I pitched “Kindness Challenge Goes Nationwide.” I called my brother, Sam, who was in church ministry with my dad. I explained the idea and asked if he would be able to make a video for me. We did the same with a pastor in Pennsylvania.

 

It did not go nationwide.

 

That year I showed up in Reno to celebrate Christmas with the fam. This time I had my then boyfriend, Adam, with me. The day after Christmas there were some weird shenanigans that ended with a trip to Guitar Center. My brother Sam had Kindness Challenged me!

 

Apparently the large Willie-Nelson-style hole in my Takamine had led some to believe that I needed a new guitar. Pastor Densel said he had been praying that I would be able to get a new one. The Taylor guitar my brother bought me that day is still the nicest thing I own.

 



Since then I’ve thought of those videos many times. I wonder how I can carry on the tradition even without a congregation to inspire.

 

These days I work next door to Planned Parenthood. When I came back from lunch last Wednesday there was a lady crouched over in the farthest end of their parking lot, sobbing. I imagined all the reasons someone at Planned Parenthood might cry. I cursed the insensitive assholes who protested on the corner with their fucking bull horns.

 

I walked over and asked if she was ok. I asked if she would prefer to be left alone and she did. I told her that I would be thinking of her and went back to work.

 

Not exactly a grand gesture, but I wanted with all my heart to show her kindness.

 

When I think about all that God has done for me, it makes me want to give without being asked. I have experienced the generosity of strangers. But I’ve also been cared for by friends and family who simply gave me their time and attention.

 

As I celebrate the Christian New Year, what everyone else refers to as the Christmas Season, I’m thinking about how I want to spend the next 12 months. I’m not big on resolutions, but I do like the idea of setting an intention.

 

During Advent we recount the stories of our faith. My favorite is the story of the Exodus. Israel groaned and the scripture says that God heard their cry and remembered his promise. How did God respond? By sending Moses to lead Israel out of captivity. Salvation came when God together with Moses and the people of Israel overthrew the Egyptians.   

 

I believe that God does the best work together with human beings. I don’t know about you, but I want to be one of those people. I want to get to work finding opportunities to bring hope, love, joy and peace to the world. Ok, maybe not the world, but at least my community.

 

Sometimes we get hung up on finding the most deserving person. But the people who need grace the most are the ones who deserve it the least.

 

We want to make sure that our donation is going to hungry children in Haiti rather than greedy organizations. We look for the most deserving family. We want to designate every dollar to the sexy project we think will make the biggest impact. Certainly, we want to practice good sense in giving, but we can’t let ourselves overthink it. If we have the means to do good, we should do so generously and without strings or reservations.

 

Listen, when I try to do good, I don’t always nail it. Occasionally folks will actually tell you what they need, like my friend JoBeth who just really wanted some banana bread last week.

 

Most of the time people who need kindness are “fine.” It’s tough to see through that, much less know how to be helpful. Still, we can’t let that keep us from looking for opportunities to do good. Those opportunities might just be someone’s answer to prayer.

 

This Christian New Year am setting an intention to be available. In those moments when God hears and answers prayer, I want to be the one who gets to show up.

 

What do you think? Are you willing to be available. Instead of waiting to see what God might do for us, let’s look forward to what God might do together with us. 

 

 



 


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