A teenage girl sits alone, praying the man she loves won't be angry, won't leave her, when he finds out the burden and the blessing she carries - when she reveals to him that she's pregnant. The baby is not his. She fears he will, as most men would, take back the promises he's made and leave her to deal with her situation on her own.
He considers leaving at first. Instead he stays.
The two journey forward together, despite the reactions of family, friends, and neighbors. Their love for each other, for God, and for the child she carries prevails.
That must have been a long nine months, and in that time, so much to do. There was a baby for whom to prepare, a pilgrimage to make, their own hearts to prepare to receive this blessed child. How do you prepare to give birth to God? To parent God? How should we, now, prepare for the same birth?
Shopping for gifts for family and friends, baking, adorning our houses in holiday finery, and myriad holiday activities make up the standard preparations of the masses. The expectation of gifts, a visit from Santa, and a holiday feast fill the minds of most while some are just hoping to scrape enough together for a gift for their child and food for their table. Stress seems the hallmark feeling of the season, with either too much to do or to little to go around.
The humble surroundings of Jesus' birth were adorned with prayer and love and joy, not with fancy things. The food, too, must have been simple fare. The gifts of that day nothing more and nothing less than Love. The first guests to the celebration were strangers to the parents – shepherds come to see the baby lying in the manger.
The hustle and bustle of the season starts earlier every year. Christmas decor in stores before Halloween, Black Friday ads before Veteran's Day. I don't want hustle, nor bustle. I want peace, family, togetherness, worship - to hold holy in my heart the hope elicited by the impending birth of the God-child. I want to center my days on the journey of a teenage mom carrying the salvation of the world within her; to adorn my heart with prayer and love and joy.
My family has simplified our Advent experience. We put together simple gifts from the heart for family and friends. We get a visit from St. Nicholas on December 6, not Santa Claus on December 25. Each morning we move farther along the Advent spiral path from darkness toward Light. Each evening, we light our Advent candles, share our highs and lows of the day, a passage from Scripture and a story, a prayer and a blessing, and anticipate the resounding joy of Christmas morning when we will wrap ourselves in the warmth of God's love for us through Jesus' birth.
Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for Heaven's employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sovereign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To Thee, O God, be praise
For word and deed and grace!
Redeemer, come! I open wide
My heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide!
Let me Thy inner presence feel,
Thy grace and love in me reveal;
Thy Holy Spirit guide us on
Until our glorious goal is won.
Eternal praise and fame
We offer to Thy name.
From "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates" by Georg Weissel, 1590-1635 Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878