Our beautiful season of Advent starts in a week, but it is greatly overshadowed by the commercial use of Christianity’s foundational spiritual event in order to promote the materialism that dominates our society today. Two days ago I led a retreat on Preparation for Advent, the arrival of Jesus as a baby in this world. I want to share with you three exercises that I think will ground you in the season of Advent this year.
We’ll be looking at this first as the celebration of Jesus’ birth in a manger far from home and, secondly, as preparing for what Christ would birth in each of us this season. The first practice is a guided visualization that you can do by yourself or with others.
The First Part of Advent: Jesus’ Birth
Sit in a comfortable posture and slowly read this modernized passage of the angel appearing to the shepherds in the fields close to Bethlehem. The first part of the visualization was taken from “What the Angel Really Said” by Anthony S. Abbott. After reading that pause for a few minutes to let the images/thoughts collect. Then pause for a minute or two between each phrase ending in … allowing your mind to absorb the pictures that the words generate. Take 10-15 minutes at least to read the whole piece.
“Now listen. Over in the next town, there is
a girl who’s about to have a baby, and that
baby is the son of God. No, no, no, that’s
not crazy, it’s true. Look here, guys. We don’t really
know much of anything about God. And God
doesn’t like that. God wants us to know him,
and once we know him, we will love him. So
he is going to be born as a baby, as the son
of this girl in the next town, and he will grow up
and come here to this field and he will speak to you
and to everyone…What? ‘Nobody speaks to us,’
you say. That’s the whole point. This baby, this man,
this God living in a human body, will speak to you
like nobody else ever has. This God is here for you,
not for the Kings and Priests, but for you guys
out here on this cold night freezing your buns off.
Now go, find that baby and kneel down and thank
God, over and over again, for bringing that baby to us.
What? ‘Who will take care of the sheep? I’ll tell
you what. If you go right now, and don’t stay
too long, I will. Give me one of those crooks.
Oh yes. I forgot. In the barn behind the tavern.
Yeah, in case you have trouble, it’s the one
with the big star over it. Now, for Christ’s sake,
So you cross the hills to Bethlehem and make your way to the stable…
Notice the stars and the dark sky and the star over the manger…what does the temperature feel like?…and finally you are there at the stable…and there are Mary and Joseph and the baby…What do you say to Mary and/or Joseph?…and what do you do with the baby?…what is happening now?…what is welling up in you?…and what do you want to do right now?…what is God saying to you now?…
Sit as long as you need to in order to absorb this experience…Then when you are ready, write down what you experienced and saw.
When you’ve written down the whole experience, here are some other questions to ponder:
What does the manger scene mean to you?
Who is Jesus in your life?
What did Jesus bring into this world? What do you celebrate about Him?
The Second Part of Advent: What is Christ Birthing in You Now?
The birth of the baby Jesus is just an historical event, but Jesus is being birthed in us as we open ourselves up to Him. So we shift our focus to the here and now. What do you want to be birthed in your life today? What do wish Christ would send you? What needs healing in you that you desire to be free from? What gift do you wish to give to Jesus now? What would you give up right now to follow Him with more of yourself?
Write out a prayer to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit about what you long for: what healing, what clarity, what purpose? Anything that your heart and soul and mind desire.
1st Corinthians 15:37-38 speaks of the seed that is sown dying to produce the plant. So we might ask what seed is being sown in me and what attitude, virtue, knowledge, etc. will grow as the seed dies?
Guided Meditation: Again, sit comfortably, take a couple of deep breaths and slowly let it out. Read the following pausing at each … for a minute or two.
Along comes the planter… He puts seeds in the ground, in each of our lives… See what the seed looks like in His hand… How deep does He dig the hole for the seed… Stay with the period of rest while the seed adapts to its new place… and now it begins to absorb the nutrients, the water in the soil… See it sprout… What happens to the seed casing?… Watch as the stem takes shape… and grows through dark soil until it pops up above ground into the light… See it become the plant that the seed promised…eventually it takes on buds… and then flowers…Now it is fully alive in you…What are you seeing and feeling from this blossoming plant?…What promise for you does it contain?… And now that it has delivered to you what God promised you it will die and leave room for the next seed to be planted and to grow in you, too…
Take a few minutes to write about your experience. What was it like?
A couple of questions to ponder and to write about: Is Christ being born anew in you right now as we prepare to welcome Him onto this earth again? How would you show that welcome to Christ?
As you use these practices with the coming of Advent, use them as often as you wish so as to keep the birth of Jesus foremost in your mind, even in the midst of our country’s materialization of a season sacred to us.