Presence - The Greatest Gift of All

Photo Credit: Joanna Kosinska

Photo Credit: Joanna Kosinska

Advent. The arrival. His arrival. It’s upon us…

For me, Advent is often an afterthought because Christmas takes all of my focus (and energy). From Thanksgiving right on into the New Year, Christmas is the only thing I set my heart and eyes on.

Perhaps it’s because radio stations and stores begin playing Christmas music on November 1. Maybe it’s my cluttered newsfeed filled with glimpses of families participating in Christmassy excursions and traditions. Or it’s just my own inner monologue of Christmas to-do lists piling up.

I forget that I don’t get to experience Christmas without Advent. In the same way that I don’t get to experience the Resurrection without the Crucifixion. There must be a fast before the feast. But I’m so guilty of diving into the jubilation of Christmas that I lose sight of the true preparations that must come first.

Advent is as much of a gift to me as the actual birth of Jesus. The season itself is a present - a journey of unfolding the mystery of God’s plan for our salvation. Through the courageous yes of an unwed teenage girl, God sent His son to be born in the most unconventional circumstances and the most filthy conditions.

Advent is a time to ponder the wonder that is the birth of the Christ.

Yet here I am budgeting Christmas gift purchases, scouring the internet for perfect holiday activities and trendy Advent traditions. I seek perfection. Most of the time, guilt is my motive behind the majority of what I say yes to during the month of December.

Picture perfect moments, gorgeous Christmas cards, the most unique presents, the hippest Advent activities, and of course the parties… I tell myself without the above, it’s not really Christmas.

In fact, I’m so concerned with presents that I forget my own presence. I am inclined to make Advent and Christmas about what I think it should be rather than resting in what it already is. The truth is Advent and Christmas will come and will go whether I have prepared all the holiday fluff and flare or not.

I can choose to either enter the season fully, or I can choose to insert the season into my world.

I have to choose one or the other. I can’t spend all of my energy trying to achieve Advent and Christmas “perfection”, and still receive all the richness this holy season has to offer. I either have a holiday season worthy of social media applause, or I can have an Advent and Christmas that I’ve fully entered into. I don’t get to claim both.

I have discovered that the years I have chosen simple are, by far, superior experiences for me and my family. When Christmas is stripped down and unconventional, this gives way to both time and space. And we open our hearts for Christ to be born again.  

A simple Advent journey, modest Christmas decorations, minimal presents, and intentional holiday activities have given way to the most cherished holiday memories we have. I no longer enter into Christmas and the New Year with a holiday hangover from exhaustion, stress, travel, and overloaded children.

I realized a few years ago that I can either have it look perfect and feel empty or I can have it look okay and feel full. So now, I choose the Christmas that is good and simple. It doesn’t have to be anything more.

Another Advent and Christmas are underway, and I’m making the choice to gift my family the best of me, not what’s left of me (after shopping, gifting, prepping, baking, and creating). I am choosing to make this Advent and Christmas our own, which will likely include being extraordinarily... fine.

I am choosing to lean into this season of preparation with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I will ponder what “the wonders of the season” actually mean rather than buying into what American culture has defined it be.

Advent and Christmas are gifts in and of themselves. God does not expect or need us to add to their splendor - they are magical, wonderful and special, simply because they are.

This year I don’t want to be distracted (by comparison, guilt, or fear of missing out). So, in order to choose the majesty of the season and claim the peace that is found within it, I am going to make time and space to be receptive.

I’ve decided to do something a little radical - to put away away social media this Advent season. I’m going to choose things that don’t involve my computer or phone. I’m putting my eyes and heart on that girl, Mary, who 2,000 years ago carried the Son of Man in her womb. I’m going to ponder what she was thinking, praying and hoping for on her journey to Bethlehem. I’m going to sit with the Gospels and ask God to speak into my yearning heart. I am asking Him to ready the way for the Lord (in me and my family).

I’m going to prepare the manger within myself - a place fit for a King.

My hope is that at the end of these next four weeks of Advent our hearts will be so filled with joyful anticipation that Christmas will be an explosion of new life into our family. That Christmas will carry us into 2019 with hearts ready for what God has planned for us.

My prayer for you, friend, is that you’ll find a way to do the same. Find a way to ready the way for Lord in your heart and in your family this Advent and Christmas season. Perhaps sacrificing one of your usual holiday musts in order to give way to something new He might have in store for you.

In the spirit of doing something new and radical this Advent, Mother’s Prayer Companion is also choosing peace (and quiet) this holiday season. In order to be more present to our families and to Jesus, we will not be blogging throughout December. Our hope is that our stillness will give way for you to discover Jesus in a whole new way during this holy season.

May the joy of our coming King penetrate your hearts and guide your decisions this December. Remember, the gift of Christmas presence is greater than any present you might give or receive. We pray you have a beautiful Advent season and very Merry (and simple) Christmas.

Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Matthew 3:3

*Our blogs will resume January 2019.

Stef Blackwell

Stef Blackwell and her husband are raising their four kids and living the dream deep in the heart of suburbia, Flower Mound, TX. She’s a raging choleric and high functioning introvert, which some have said is impossible. But alas, here she lives to tell her tale. Her greatest strength is bossing people around; her greatest weakness is she bosses people around - and Jesus loves her just the way she is - today. She looks for the one mama who is standing alone and strives to bring them into the fold. God has given her a passion for marriage, motherhood, and living missionally.