Learning From Advent
Every December while I was growing up, my family participated in the tradition of advent - a daily (or weekly) celebration of Christ's coming to earth in the month leading up to Christmas. There are four candles in a traditional advent wreath, one for each Sunday before Christmas. Each week an additional candle is lit until the wreath is bathed in light on Christmas morning. The candles symbolize the virtues that Christ modeled for us and which we are given capacity to grow in when we trust in Him for salvation. They are hope, love, joy, and peace, and these are the virtues I have been learning from advent throughout my life.
I mention this tradition because the holidays are a busy time for most of us. We have our family celebrations and gift exchanges to prepare for, and if we have children we want them to experience the wonder of this season in various ways. On top of all these responsibilities, we also have our own ministries with refugees and immigrants. It can be tempting to try and do it all. While I certainly hope that my lists of ideas and tips for welcoming refugees into your lives during the holidays have made you excited to do just that, I also want to remind us that Christmas is also meant to be a time when we reflect on hope, love, joy, and peace, not just busyness and chaos. So, in the spirit of reflection, here is what I have been learning from advent this month.
The past months have been deeply troubling for those of us who work with refugees and immigrants. Stinging rhetoric and the anticipation of new policies in the new year has me beyond frustrated as I try to comfort both myself and my very frightened immigrant friends. I am thankful to be reminded that my hope for the future does not come from governments, policies, or my own ability to advocate for my refugee friends, but from Christ. My hope can remain unwavering because He is unchanging.
Many of my friends, family, and fellow church members do not understand the work that I do and the things I am passionate about. I am learning from advent that I cannot convince them of the importance of welcoming refugees and immigrants if I do not first extend the same love I have for refugees to them. I am hoping that throughout this Christmas season (and into the new year) I can find ways to love on those that I sometimes find difficult to love.
Joy - some days overflowing from your life, and other days strangely absent. In this season I am learning that joy is not a feeling and does not mean that I'll never feel sad, disappointed, or angry. Instead, joy is a deep knowledge that no matter what my outward mood, I can always be thankful for Christ's presence with me. I hope that when circumstances are difficult in my life that my refugee (and non-refugee) friends will not see false happiness, but a deep joy.
This is my prayer more than anything in this season of my life, for true and lasting peace in the world that can only come through the proclamation of the gospel. Our world is chaotic, and at times I begin to feel that things have been crazier than usual lately, but this isn't true. We live in a broken world, and our history has always reflected that reality. During this season, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, His first coming into our messy world, let's also look ahead to His return, when He will bring eternal peace to those who have trusted in Him.
If you are finding that you feel a bit frazzled as you frantically try to get everything done, I hope you'll give yourself permission to rest and reflect on these four virtues and their significance in your own life. I have been learning from advent for many years, but I still have so much to learn, and each week this month as I light the candles of hope, love, joy, and peace on my own coffee table, I want to be reminded of that. And if you're looking for a way to follow along with the tradition of advent, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp's blog.
In an attempt to free up my schedule for some rest in the next few weeks, while also making sure I get all my homework done, I am not planning any blog posts until the new year. I will however, still be keeping you abreast of current events in the world of forced migration through my social media, so be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter if you haven't already, and I'll see you all in 2017!