Christmas from Advent to ZenPosted: December 8, 2013
Christmas from Advent to Zen
Growing up in a family that didn’t’t go to church or celebrate Christianity in any overt fashion (“There is a God, but that’s not really for us” was my mother’s view), Christmas meant one word: books. Well, I suppose when I was very small it also meant Santa – but mostly by the time I was able to plop down in a chair and start reading – Santa was just a means to an end – books. In fact, even now there is a book under the tree with my name on it every year. When I was seventeen I went to church with a friend, walked the aisle, and “asked Jesus into my heart” which made me a new creation and brought about a new winter focus: Advent.
Advent is the season of expectation. Traditionally it is the four weeks before Christmas where we anticipate and imagine the gifts the Christ child will bring us. The weeks are marked by candles and set up to reflect the beauty the holiday celebrates:
Advent is what we focus on while we attempt to ignore the hardcore shopping (“I will cut you for that Leap Frog Tablet!”), wild partying (“Open bar at the office today!”), and general outrage (“Your ad says “Holidays” not “Christmas” – I’m never shopping here again after I buy these things and get my discount!”) of the season. When I am tired of the hustle, bustle, dining or whining – I light a purple candle and call it a star-filled night – when love come into our world wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.
I love Advent but I have also gained sanity and balance by ridding myself of its main component – expectation. For the most part, our culture has transformed expectation from being a holy waiting filled with gratitude to a laundry list of requirements that must be met. Ancients regarded unmet expectations as a sign or a challenge. Modern families regard them as disappointment – always to be avoided.
We are fed expectation (along with a diet of competition, conformity, and confusion) in every corner of our life. Goal directed behavior is our drug of choice, and “meets (or exceeds) expectations” is the Holy Grail. Church leaders buy books, attend seminars and gnash their teeth at meetings attempting to define and evaluate the congregation’s expectations for growth, leadership, social impact and whether there is enough church buy-in to go for that new hymnal. We have raised up a model and voted that the surprising, not-what-you-expect, catch-me-if-you-can Holy Spirit must work within it. Expectation has made us fat on promises, and thin on perseverance. It is time for it to go.
But, how can I have Advent without expectation? First by realizing the three wise magi probably started life looking like this:
My Christian heart, cultivated in the west is buoyed each day by my Zen practice – founded in the east. In meditation we are taught to let go of expectation and embrace acceptance. It is what it is. It will be what it will be. And, we accept it as its nature without judgment. A life without judging one another – sounds kinda like something I heard about once, from a guy – on a hill – found by these three wise folks after he became more than expectation.
The magi were following a star. Looking for a king. Did you see the gifts they brought? No rattles, no cool crib mobiles, and no booties. I’m pretty sure a teen couple in a barn with a baby was NOT what they expected. It was what they accepted. No one threw up a magi hand, stomped back to his camel or shouted at the star, “A baby? Really? REALLY?!”
They accepted something they never expected.
So this Advent – I will not expect. I will accept.
I will accept Peace – the gift of perspective, forgiveness and rest.
I will accept Hope – the gift of a future, assurance, and trust.
I will accept Joy – laughter and cookies, giggles and jokes.
I will accept Love – all around me, within me, abundantly.
And I will accept that the Holy Spirit whom I have never been able to catch will do something unexpected – and leave a baby unto us – and his name shall be called …“Wonderful.”
(And, if there is a book under the tree with my name on it – I’ll accept that too.)