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Christmas Reflection – Part 2

As part of our series on going deeper in your spiritual faith, in your spiritual walk with God, we wanted to take a pause and just take some time in this holiday season to think about how Christmas can be part of what also helps us refocus and realign when it comes to our lives with God. So we’re taking a look back at a Christmas devotional that we have for you. I’m excited for you to get to listen to this one in case you missed it a few years back. And again, to you and yours, a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Julie Lyles Carr: I am not even gonna ask you how your holiday preparations are going, because then I would have to confess that I have very little done this year. . I’m gonna be scrambling. I can already tell, but that’s okay. That’s okay, because I’m really trying to remind myself that the Christmas season is not gonna be so much anymore for me about all the tasks and trying to get all the lists done.

I’ve lived that way for a long time. And this year, I really want to soak in the beauty of the season. This is the AllMomDoes Podcast, and I’m your host, Julie Lyles Carr. We’re part of the Purposely Podcast Network and as part of our series on going deeper in your spiritual faith, in your spiritual walk with God, we wanted to take a pause and just take some time in this holiday season to think about how Christmas can be part of what also helps us refocus and realign when it comes to our lives with God.

So we’re taking a look back at a Christmas devotional that we have for you. I’m excited for you to get to listen to this one in case you missed it a few years back. And again, to you and yours, a very merry Christmas.

I was raised in a church background where we didn’t do a lot of extra stuff. And what I mean by that is this, we had a pretty standard way of going about our church services. Our church building was very simple, was rather plain, and we didn’t really engage in some of the traditions that I would call, oh, additional maybe?

They’re not necessarily traditions that you find in scripture. They’re things that developed over time by different communities and culture in response to certain times of the year that aren’t necessarily, anti-biblical. They’re just things that we just didn’t do as part of my upbringing, and so they weren’t things that were part of my traditional understanding of some different seasons.

And one of those things when I was a kid was we didn’t do advent. Now I say that, let me put it this way. I think we had the countdown calendars. Now we call them advent calendars, right? Where you punch in the little thing on the cardboard, and there’s a candy treat in there. I certainly buy those for my kids today.

Advent calendars, I can’t even remember if we did that. Or if we did, I don’t think they were called advent calendars. That just wasn’t necessarily something that I was really familiar with and we for sure didn’t do the Advent candles. That was something really different to me. Now as I grew in my faith, moved into my own home, got married to Mike, and we began to do some different traditions and practices around the celebration of the Christmas season.

I was part of some faith communities who did a form of advent candles or some kind of advent countdown, but I was never really that familiar with the purple candles you often see in some of the more traditional church forms when it comes to advent, and I still didn’t really have as much of a background on what it all might mean. Because again, to my mind, it was always just that countdown to Christmas thing that was going on.

Well, I’m pretty fascinated with the practice of advent these days, and I have really found some beautiful moments in the practice of Advent, and I’ve also had to learn a lot because again, as I said, it just wasn’t something I was that familiar with. But I have to tell you some things that this Christmas season I’ve been learning and observing in myself.

And maybe you’ll see a little bit of yourself in some of this too, or maybe not. Maybe I’m just the weirdo here and I recognize that is a high percentage possibility, but there might be some things here that resonate with you as well. So this whole idea of advent. As I said, I always thought it was about the countdown to Jesus coming into the world, and certainly a lot of us have thought of it that way.

And when you also reinforce that with the advent calendars, with the punch through cardboard and the cheap chocolate, you certainly have that focus on that countdown to Christmas Eve and I thought of it that way. My kids probably think of that way still. But as it turns, In traditional church history, what the advent was really referring to was being aware and on alert for the second coming of Jesus.

Meaning that time that he would come back to the world and make good on a lot of the things that he said in the New Testament, in the gospels. That perspective is really interesting to me. When you go from it being the countdown into his first, coming into the birth of Christ into the nativity scene, to take that a step back and go, oh, wait a minute.

Am I really living like I believe that there will be a day that he comes back? And what does that mean? So that’s one of the first things that I think is really fascinating is having to readjust my understanding of what it means. Now, you may be far past that. You may have been raised in a tradition where you always knew that was the case and you’ve always had some kind of advent practice, and if so, that’s awesome.

But for those of us who aren’t as familiar, for those of us who weren’t raised in a tradition that did that, for those of us who weren’t raised in a faith community or a faith background, I think that’s a really interesting look. And the other thing that I find really interesting about that as well is so often when I look at the New Testament prophecies, About the coming of Christ, there is reference to his return and what that will mean. 

Of course, there’s prophecy about his immediate coming into the world, but there’s also a lot about when he will come back and what that will look like. It’s been a really interesting time for me to recenter and go, huh, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of his return and how I might live and the things that I might think about a little more clearly if I thought that he could show up at any time. Now, here’s one that you may think I’m super flaky and you may wonder about the state of my heart, and that’s all fine. Probably be a little valid on some of those counts.

But can I be honest with you about one of the reasons that I haven’t done Advent candles for quite a while in my practice around this time of the year? You ready? Okay, here you go. Those purple candles and that one pink one, that are traditional for a lot of the advent experience, they don’t match my Christmas decor.

Okay. I know. Judge away. I’m with you. I feel it. I understand. I know. Really, Jules. Really? You haven’t done Advent Candles because it doesn’t match your white and red and green Christmas decor? Okay. How shallow can you get? Fine. I get you. But here’s the lesson. This year I do have those candles out and no, they do not match anything of my big Christmas whoop-de-do decor, which looks something like a Seussical explosion because it is all the reds, the candy canes, the whites, the Grinch Greens.

That’s how we do it around here and we do it big. So you can imagine the addition of purple candles and a pink candle. Yeah. Doesn’t go with anything. Not Pinterest worthy looking, not Instagram grid posting worthy in those ways. And here’s something that it’s taught me about myself. There are things sometimes in my faith practice, in my faith walk that I struggle to include or to embrace because I don’t always think they match my image of myself or the image I wanna be putting out there.

Just take a minute, let that soak a second. . Think about it. What are some things that you are not in the habit of doing or in the habit of making part of your conversation because they would be purple and pink against a sea of red, green, and white? You get in the application now? I was really surprised that I would let something of this nature interfere with something that could help me focus a little more deeply on my relationship with Jesus, because of my decor.

And then I had to widen that lens and go what else is out there? Are there relationships I’m not pursuing? Are there passages of scripture that I’m avoiding? ? Are there practices that I need to reinstitute in my marriage, in my relationship with others in the way I am with my kids that really are God’s best practices for how we’re supposed to be in a relationship and how we’re supposed to be communicating?

But I don’t think it necessarily matches my personality or my way of doing things. So I gotta say one of the big lessons of Advent this year for me is what have I been holding at arm’s length that could be a tremendous tool, a tremendous inspiration, a tremendous encouragement that I’ve been resisting? Because I don’t think it always matches how I wanna be seen, or my levels of convenience or my levels of preference.

And is there something there for you? What are the purple and pink candles that maybe you’ve been resisting in your life? Another thing that I found interesting. Now because I’ve become more of a student in the last little while about this traditional advent that involves three purple candles in one pink candle to symbolize each of the weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas.

That first candle is considered the candle of hope, which I think is really beautiful. And the other three candles that follow, and you can look this up, some people like to think of those as the candle of peace as the second one that has to do with the Old Testament prophets, the third candle being a remembrance of John the Baptist, the candle of love, and then the pink candle being the candle of joy.

So this journey that we go on, when we are thinking about the second coming of Christ and what that could mean, and then the lead up to the celebration of the birth of Christ. This candle of hope thing, I was trying to get my candles into these little candle holders. And they were not behaving y’all.

They just were not, they were wonky, they were whopper jawed. Here I am, I’m already incorporating something that doesn’t exactly look like my decor, and now I can’t get these candles to stand up the way that I want them to stand. But I didn’t because, standards. I didn’t wanna light the three candles for which it was not the week for them, but I was gonna go ahead and have the candle of hope.

And so I lit the candle of hope and I used the candle of hope to soften the other three candles so I could get them to stand up straighter and not be sideways in their candle holders. And wow. I thought, oh, I feel a lesson coming on as I went through this practice, because what I’ve realized is a lot of us want peace, love, and joy in our lives.

Those other three candles I’ve talked about. But hope is the thing that often can cement and give foundation to having peace, love, and joy in our lives. Now, what do I mean by that? Hope is that place of trust. Hope is that place of circumstances being what they are right now, but believing a better day is possible through God.

Hope is that place, when I think about John 10:10 that Jesus came to give us life and to give it to us in abundance, hope is that thing that believes there’s something beyond just the challenges of this life that believes that there is purpose. Even when there is situations and things that can seem meaningless, hope gives something for peace, love, and joy to hang on to. 

And there are times that I’ve not focused on the hope that I have in God, the trust I have in God, the hope that there is more. Because peace, love, and joy in weird ways seem more actionable . And what do I mean by that? With peace I have things that I can do. I can meditate in his word. Peace feels like taking a pause.

Peace feels like taking rest. With love, there are actions of love. I can donate towards something for someone in this time of year to help them have a kind of Christmas they wanted to have. I can be proactive in being generous with others. I can be intentional to tell how much others I love them and why they’re important to me.

Joy to me, although I know that sometimes we distinguish between happiness and joy. Joy also can feel like something of an action. I’m going to do things that make me joyful. I’m going to listen to music that makes me joyful, and I’m going to have experiences that make me feel happy and joyful, but hope, wow.

Hope is one of those things that feels completely dependent on something that I can’t really see yet. But then it made me realize when hope is the thing that can uphold peace, love, and joy, then maybe I’m getting the equation a little more solid. And so that’s another thing that I’ve learned in this season of practicing advent in a fresh way. To allow hope to be something that undergirds these other moments that we also think of during the advent peace, love, and joy, but to let hope be the thing that really cements it. And I learned that from those purple and paint candles mind you. Here’s the other thing I observed in myself, and this might be something that you find applies to you too.

So as I told you here, I am not someone who’s had a whole lot of background experience in practicing advent the way that other traditional churches often do. I have had to look up stuff. I’ve asked people about it. I’ve had other advent devotionals and things of that sort. So it’s not that it was a completely foreign concept, this way of doing, it’s a little bit fresh for me, and yet also really seated in antiquity.

Here’s what’s funny. I have been so worried about doing it right. Come on folks. , the practice of Advent is beautiful, but it is not something that’s part of the 10 Commandments, okay, . It’s not anything that’s practiced in scripture. And let’s face it, we all know that most likely Jesus was born sometime maybe in the spring. 

Some theologians argue sometime in the fall. Bottom line, we know it wasn’t December 25th. We’re clear on that. I do love that it’s a time in which the world pauses. It’s a time in which you hear basically what are praise and worship songs everywhere you go. It’s really an amazing time to have conversations about the person of Jesus and how his coming changed our world radically, even with people who aren’t necessarily walking in faith toward him.

But we all understand. As much as we have used this time and beautifully so to celebrate him, there’s nothing that is biblical about having Christmas at this time, and there certainly is nothing biblical about lighting up purple and pink candles and walking ourselves through some scripture reading in an intentional way to celebrate a particular time of year that God didn’t command us to do.

So I get how silly this could sound. But I’m telling you, I’ve been worried about doing advent, right. Am I supposed to light the candle at this time or not this time? Am I supposed to read this passage of scripture or, oh, no, I didn’t realize that this one was actually for today, and I read it yesterday and now I’m not getting it right, and I found myself tipping into something that maybe you can relate to also. There are practices of faith, things of wisdom and faith, ways we can commemorate, ways that we can help ourselves focus on our faith journeys. And if we’re not careful, we can sometimes turn those practices into a form of legalism. We can sometimes turn those practices into something that begins to out scope what we originally were there for, what we were originally trying to find.

I’ve done it. I’ve done it in plenty of other ways, in plenty of other settings with other things that were supposed to be tools or devices, not something that was supposed to be served unto. And then I found myself doing it again in this season with Advent. Here as I was working on lighting these candles of hope, peace, love, and joy, getting all spooled up about if I was doing this thing in some prescribed right way.

Instead of remembering afresh and focusing on the fact that God is just simply pleased when we show up to spend time with him. And the things that we put around that, the things that we add to that can actually sometimes distract us from him if we’re not careful. What is it for you?

What is something in your faith practice that started out as something beautiful, something that was fresh and helping you focus in a new way, and then before you knew it, if you missed it once, or if you did it a little different the next time, or you forgot this one thing, you felt some guilt, you felt a little bit of a nip of some kind of shame coming after you.

Can I just encourage you, that if you’re finding something in your world right now that used to be life giving, but now feels a little more shackling than that now feels a little bit more like expectation than it does to be able to come with an expectant heart. Maybe it’s time to take a look at that. Maybe that’s something that my frail human and flawed way of approaching advent this year might just help you think through some of the things that you’ve been about.

I’ll be fascinated to wrap up as we come into the final days of this Christmas season to reflect back and to think on what this has all meant, and I hope this is something I’m going to return to. Yes. Even in those, so summer months of July, even in those times here in Texas where I live, where it’s so blazing hot, it seems impossible that there were cooler days in Christmas just right around the corner.

But what I wanna remind myself and to remember again, is first of all, that there are elements of our faith that are so much more ancient than what we often see, including this traditional practice that I’ve incorporated this year. That the scope of our faith and the background of our faith has involved so many amazing people before us.

And God willing will also include so many amazing people after us. And to realize both the longitude and the latitude of what happened when Christ came into this world is so exceptional. I. Secondly, I wanna remember moving forward through the rest of this Christmas season and into a fresh year, there are going to be things in my Christian walk and my faith journey that don’t match my decor.

There are gonna be things that feel like purple and pink and a sea of green and red, and that’s okay because that may be the very thing I need to help me remember afresh that my Christianity’s not about my convenience and it’s not about my personal brand. And maybe that speaks to you too. I wanna carry forward that I need to have hope.

That hope is something that is so powerful that my hope in Christ is where I want to be able to then solidify the peace, love, and joy I know through him. And that hope comes in believing that he is, and that he says that he is who he is and believing that he is the son of God. And then lastly, these lessons of the advent.

I wanna remember that I might just have a little bit of a propensity to be worried about doing things right. I might have a propensity to be a little more focused at time on the legalism of things. Even as much work as I feel like I’ve tried to do to embrace first the mercy and grace of God, it’s still there that worry about doing things right?

That part of my personality, and maybe yours too, that is trying to practice faith in a perfect way, when really the practice of faith is the embracing of our own imperfections and putting them confidently. In the hands of our savior, so I wanna remember that lesson too. Wherever this time of devotional finds you, whether that is this Christmas season or later on in the year, I hope that these four things remain with you.

Each of them, part of the four candles of the advent, each of them having their own little message. I hope that maybe you found a little bit of yourself. And you found encouragement to know that you’re not alone in some of the weird and wacky things that you find yourself thinking or doing in response to your faith, that you’re not alone when it comes to wanting to continue to grow and finding that you have imperfect growth sometimes. Hope that you know that you’re not alone this season because Christ came for you.

He came for me. And that’s something worth celebrating every day. Merry Christmas to you from all of us here at AllMomDoes.

Check out the show notes for all the links, info, and other goodness from this week’s episode with a big thank you to our content coordinator, Rebecca. I’ve got a request. Please go and leave a review wherever you get your podcast. It really does make a difference in helping other people find the show and I’ll see you next week here at The AllMomDoes Podcast.

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