My little family spent a few hours of our Saturday – this first Saturday in December – maneuvering the crowds and overflowing aisles at local stores. We purchased gifts for families and kids we had adopted, with the strict rule that we would not shop for ourselves! The goal, of course, to focus on needs of others instead of our own wants.
I will admit that we had a very close call! As we prepared to check out at Target, there was an end-cap filled with seasonal Oreos – including hot-cocoa flavored!! Though we were all tempted, we remained strong and somehow the Oreos stayed on the shelf. (I’ll admit – I have a suspicion that we will buy the hot-cocoa Oreos at some point during the holiday season. We avoided instant gratification this time, but it won’t take long before our desires must be fulfilled!) Our outward focus that afternoon made the shopping experience a little more enjoyable, yet I still found the chaos in the stores overwhelming. We are so easily sucked into this consumerist culture; we forget what we are celebrating in the first place!
Today marks the First Sunday in Advent. Wikipedia defines this season succinctly: “Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.” As I consider experiences in stores during December, I’m not sure how our preparation for Christmas aligns with preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus. Honoring Advent serves to redirect our focus; keep us on track.
On this First Sunday, the theme is HOPE. Hope is a feeling of expectation and the desire for a certain thing to happen. We remember the Old Testament hope for a Savior to come, and reflect upon our own hope through God’s grace, observed through the life and death of Jesus. Our hope is in the presence of God who does not leave or forsake us, the forgiveness of sins, eternal salvation, new life, unconditional love. What else do we need?
Through him [Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2
I was fortunate to attend a speech by Ira Glass last night, creator and host of NPR’s This American Life. If you are not familiar with this radio show, it is a forum to tell stories – and it does so really well. The content could be critical current events or mundane events in people’s lives. Some are funny; some are very serious. Glass said that many stories end quite sadly – yet he stays hopeful. Someone in the audience asked: “How? How do you stay hopeful when it often seems SO bad?!?” Glass didn’t have an answer – he said he was just wired to be optimistic; to cling to hope.
This made me think – is it possible to be “wired” as a pessimist (which I am!) and proclaim this HOPE, which I know as a follower of Christ is real?!
This led to an enjoyable conversation with my 9-year-old on the way to soccer practice this morning. At breakfast, we had discussed as a family what hope means for a Christian. With that starting point, I then defined for my son optimistic versus pessimistic. I tried to connect these terms with the old analogy about a glass half full or empty. Then I asked him: are you by nature optimistic or pessimistic? How are YOU wired? He answered (perhaps too quickly) that he was a pessimist. Ah, poor kid! I know all too well the melancholy and anxiety created through pessimism! But we continued to talk about what it means to cling to hope – the knowledge that no matter what we endure, the end of our story is secure through the power and love of God. We decided to remind each other to be hopeful when our mental wires try to keep that glass half empty!
December will fly by, and Christmas morning will come and go in a blink. I will be stressed by the crowds, pessimistic in the face of adversity, overcome by guilt when I finally buy and then eat that package of hot-cocoa Oreos! Yet throughout all of this, I have hope; hope in a King who came to be with us and won; a Light who shines in the darkness!