By Ann Boyd

Preparing to Prepare

Every year, I look forward to Advent and Christmas with intentions of enjoying sweet times with family and friends, peaceful moments by a fire, and reflecting on my closeness with Jesus. But December can quickly snowball into a flurry of activities, leaving me pretty depleted by the time the new year rolls around. Especially for people in academia, it can be important to think carefully about building in time for spiritual replenishment during this brief interlude between semesters. Consider taking an hour to reflect on some of these questions in the next few weeks. 

Reflection

  • What evidence of God's activity have I seen in my life this year?
  • What habits have helped me to stay attuned to the Holy Spirit?
  • What habits have hindered my awareness of my connection to the Lord?
  • Have I seen the presence of God revealed in my work or area of study this year? If so, how? If not, how can I pray for this next year?

Preparation

  • What activities might God be inviting me to engage in this Advent to prepare for the celebration of his birth?
  • What habits do I need to have in place this winter to keep my relationship with Jesus vital?
  • How might God be inviting me to share the love of Christ with others over the holiday season?
  • What support networks do I need to have around me to stay strong in my faith? 
  • Will there be room for physical and spiritual rest and replenishment over the holidays? How can I build this into my plans?

Some ideas for preparation

  • Prepare your heart for Advent with a special place. Dedicate a corner of your living space for regular daily readings from Scripture or advent meditiations.  Light a candle to signify Christ’s presence coming into the world.
  • Take a retreat of silence. Dedicate three or four hours of silence as a mini-retreat for time with God in this busy season.
  • Study the Bible with others. Set up a four week study of advent passages with friends. Meet together if you are local, or share your experiences weekly through email messages or phone calls.
  • Attend a special worship service. Find an advent or Christmas Eve service in a church or tradition less familiar to you.
  • Community service. Volunteer with a local food pantry or meal program.
  • Write. Try writing real letters to long-distance friends, using pen and paper.
  • Read a Christian book for spiritual growth. Consider Living the Christian Year or The Gospel of Christmas.
 

Celebration

• What traditions do I want to participate in or initiate to celebrate Advent and Christmas with my family and friends?
• How shall I involve myself with my church or Christian community to celebrate Christmas this year?
• How can I take ownership in holiday festivities this year so that I can be truly present to those around me? 

Some ways I enjoy celebrating:

  • Bake or cook. Some like to do this alone, some with friends or family. I always look forward to making several batches of my favorite butter toffee crunch shortbread in December and sharing them with friends.
  • Make homemade gifts for others. This takes some time, but it can be a nice way to slow down. Making découpage candles is one of my favorite, easy crafts.
  • Lighting Advent candles and reading Scripture. We like to do this while we're having a small dessert after dinner. Follow the lectionary texts if you are not sure where to start. 
  • Listen to Handel’s Messiah. Consider attending a performance (sing-along or not), or just listen to a recording. Stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus.
  • Visit people or invite them to your home. Think about those in your life who might enjoy some extra companionship and consider sharing your time with them.
  • Make Christmas decorations. Cranberry and popcorn strings are cheerful and festive. We have enjoyed making simple cinnamon ornaments with cookie cutters in past years.  
  • Setting up a crèche. If you have a nativity scene, set it up in a prominent location. Hide baby Jesus until Christmas Day. If you are looking to purchase one, you can find lovely handmade one at etsy and Ten Thousand Villages.
  • Sing. Host a Christmas caroling party. Provide hymn-books, hot cocoa, and scarves.

In what ways do you create space for spiritual replenishment and celebration during the holiday season?

About the Author

Ann has worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1997, exploring her interests and gifts in music, teaching, and spiritual formation. She received her bachelor’s in music education from Northwestern University in 1997 and keeps on singing, even if it is just for joy at home. Ann spends free moments working on knitting projects, making homemade ice cream, and going on tandem-bike dates with her husband, Jon. Together, they homeschool their two daughters and write up as much as they can at their blog. Ann is the interim editor of The Well.

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