On The Way to Bethlehem
First Sunday of Advent—Year C
December 2, 2018
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I love the way today’s Godly Play story speaks about the season of Advent.
“Purple is the colour of kings and queens. No one would wear purple in those days except royal people. Roman citizens would wear a little stripe of purple, but that was all. Purple is a serious colour, and something serious is about to happen. A king is coming, but he is not the kind of king that people thought was coming. This King had no army, no great house and no riches. This King was a baby who was born in a barn.
The King who was coming is still coming. This is full of mystery. You know, a mystery is hard to enter sometimes. That is why this time of Advent is so important. Sometimes people can walk right through a mystery and not even know it is there. This time of year you will see people hurrying in the shops buying things and doing this and that, but they will miss the Mystery. They don’t know how to get ready and maybe they just forgot.
The Church learned a long time ago that people need a way to get ready to enter or even come close to a mystery like Christmas. The Church set aside four weeks to get ready. This is such a great Mystery that it takes that long to get ready. During this time, we are all on the way to Bethlehem.”[i]
We are all on the way to Bethlehem, and there is a mystery waiting for us there—I wonder are you ready? Or do you feel more like you overslept your alarm on the day your journey was supposed to begin. You now find yourself racing around the house, frantically throwing shoes, socks, sweaters, anything in arms reach into your suitcase and barreling headlong out the door frantic to reach your destination before it’s too late.
No one likes to begin a journey like that, but it’s so easy to end up there. It’s so easy to become so preoccupied and distracted that we miss the opportunity to prepare well. We miss the chance to organize our self, to think about what we want to bring with us and what we want leave behind, and to consider our mysterious and holy destination.
But that is exactly what the season of Advent offers us, a chance to get ready. To slow down and consider deeply the mystery we are about to come close to and how we want to come close to it.
So let’s get ready, and thankfully, we have some guides to help us on our way.
Our first guides along the path are the prophets. Again, I love the way Godly Play describes prophets.
“Prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important. Prophets are the people who know the most important things.”[ii]
Prophets are the people who know the most important things. I wonder, what are the most important things in your life?
This is a question we don’t spend much time considering in the everyday hustle and bustle of our lives. It usually takes something big to bring us back to this question, to be prophets in our own lives and to wonder about what the most important things in our lives are. A crisis can lead us there—the death of a loved one, a significant illness, a tragedy in the world around us. Moments of great joy can also lead us there—the arrival of a child or one of the “big” birthdays, or the start of a new year.
The start of the new year is ready-made to consider what is most important. As we head into a new year, we pause to consider the year that has just ended—moments of joy and pain, ways of being that worked well for us, and those that didn’t—and we look forward to the year to come, exploring ways to shape our life to it better reflects what is most important to us.
But we don’t have to wait until January 1 to engage in this practice—because today, the first Sunday of Advent, is also New Year’s Day. It is the moment when we re-enter the cycle of the church calendar and celebrate the start of a new year walking with God.
And just as we often take January 1 to consider our physical or relational health, this New Year’s Day offers us the chance to consider our spiritual health—to prepare our hearts and minds for the journey to Bethlehem.
We wonder with the prophets, about where God has come close to us and where we have come close to God?
We consider what spiritual practices can help us come closer to God and notice when God comes closer to us?
And we bid farewell to practices that it’s time to put aside for a while to allow ourselves space to listen in a new way?
We are all on the way to Bethlehem, and there is a mystery waiting for us there—I wonder how are you getting ready?
[i] From The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 3-Advent I.
[ii] From The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 3-Advent I.