As we race toward 2016, it’s worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on 2015. Personally, I’m taking the next few weeks to pray through, and set, a few goals for the coming year. But I’m also unplugging and asking what I learned from this past Advent and Christmas.
We can always be in learning mode, of course. And yet, during Advent there’s this strange – yet poignant – heightened focus on both the secular and Christian elements of the holiday. Unbridled materialism and a baby born in a cattle’s feeding trough. Frenetic busyness and a call to reflection. This strange mixture is a mirror of our hearts that are caught between two worlds, and can show us so much about ourselves, our culture, and the Lord. If we’ll slow down long enough to think about it.
I want to invite you to do that with me over the new few minutes.
My Christmas Takeaways
So over the past few weeks I’ve been ruminating on what I’m learning during Advent. Here are some of my takeaways.
I share this to stimulate your own thinking. In just a minute, I’ll give you a chance to think about what God might be teaching you.
- I need God’s help to long for Him, and heaven, way more than I do. I wasn’t incredibly excited about attending Advent church services. I experienced some apathy spiritually and didn’t take enough special, slow devotional time. I’m seeing that my prayer life isn’t nearly as strong as it needs to be.
- I need God’s help to become more generous. At Christmas each year, some kind family members give me extra ‘income’. I want to tithe it to someone in need, but will have to give something up I want. And yet, at the moment that feels hard.
- I was more present with others leading up to Christmas, and, less discouraged at the busy pace leading up to it. In the past, I got pretty grouchy at all the work and preparation getting ready for Christmas requires. But I noticed a distinct change this year, which led me to feel encouraged at God’s obvious work in my heart.
- I need God’s help to focus more on my family. We went too hard this fall and slowing down (oddly) highlighted that. Spending more time together as a family almost felt a little out of place. But it was great, and I want more of that.
- I was blown away by God’s amazing grace in the Incarnation and its implications for my relationships. Advent highlights Jesus’s coming to a world that really didn’t want him: Jesus ‘came to his own, and his own people did not receive him’ (John 1:11). This year, God helped me understand more deeply how crazy it is that Jesus left his perfect home and became one of us partly for me, even though so often I don’t ‘receive’ him. That’s got to mean something in the way I think about others.
Before we know it, 2016 will be staring us in the face. Not that there’s anything magical about January 1st. But these next few days are a golden opportunity to pause and think about what we learned from this past Advent season so that the year ahead can more closely reflect God’s heart for our lives.
Here’s my challenge, my small attempt to help you benefit from the Christmas season that was.
- Take a little time and write down, type out, record in some way different reflections from this past Advent season. It could be anything: ‘I didn’t give Christ much thought, honestly’. Or, ‘I found unusual joy in giving this year’. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation – just get it out there!
- Pray and try to identify which reflections stand out to you as things God wants to highlight in this season of your life.
- Give thanks, seek forgiveness, etc. as appropriate. With God and others.
- Could any of these reflections be things you decide to focus on in the coming year?
That’s it. God wants us to ‘consider our ways’ (see Haggai 1:5, 7), which is hard to do in our fast-paced culture. But just a little consistent effort and reflection can go a long way in the year ahead.
What did you learn about yourself – and God – this past Advent season? Share it with us in the comments below!