Each year around the first part of October, I eagerly begin considering ideas and themes for my Advent devotional blogs. I love to write devotions, especially in Advent! This creative, prayerful practice helps prepare my heart for Christmas and the Spirit of Christ. Writing daily Advent devotions has become my cherished tradition, one that blesses me richly.
But this year, I struggled. There were many hours when I sat before my computer, trying out “templates” for different themes. Each time I would soon become stymied in the writing of them. I became frustrated, even desperate at times. What would be my theme that would connect all 25 devotions? I have previously used alphabetical words, lectionary readings, Advent themes of hope, love, joy and peace, and last year, the theme of Light. I tried all of these- and even some new ideas- but soon felt both empty and overwhelmed.
A few weeks ago I tried again. Nothing. In fact, I thought to myself, “I’ve got nothing.” I sadly and tearfully surrendered. I decided to forgo my writing tradition for this season.
And then it happened. When I fully realized, “I’ve got nothing,” my heart opened to God saying, “But I have everything.” A tremendous peace came over me. I was free of the burden. I wasn’t supposed to ask God to bless the writing of MY theme, but to ask God to bless my writing of GOD’S theme. I was to stop asking God to help me create and instead, ask God to help me notice what God is creating- within me and around me. After all, isn’t God the best, true Creator?
This year, I plan to have “An Unprepared Advent.” My hope is to release any of my themes, ideas, or goals for my Advent experience, and to allow God to reveal what God would like to show me. I hope to live this Advent with an unprepared heart, simply observing what God might reveal each day. I will not concern myself with daily writings, but write when the Spirit moves me.
When I consider the Bible stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, it becomes obvious to me that no one was prepared! Surely Mary never dreamed that she would carry God’s son. Surely Joseph never dreamed that he would encounter an angel of encouragement. Surely the shepherds were surprised and astonished at the angels’ news. Surely the inn keeper would have prepared a room if he had known God’s son was coming. I imagine even the animals were quite surprised. Jesus birth came at a very inconvenient and unexpected time for all involved, but God’s prepared plan was completed in God’s perfect timing.
Advent has been a time for us to prepare our hearts to receive the Christ child once again. But maybe we should totally “unprepare” our hearts! Let’s open ourselves to be surprised. Let’s pay attention to what God is doing, with less attention to our own agendas. Let’s open ourselves for God to freely (and surprisingly?) work within us.
I will forever cherish that moment. In fully realizing, “I’ve got nothing,” my heart was emptied and opened for God’s everything to pour in. That painful surrender led to incredible freedom. Knowing that God has everything I need gives me hope for all of Advent- and all of my days.
I will thank God for this when I light the candle of hope on Sunday evening.
Advent blessings, everyone.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NRSV)