Pause

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… right? But some days, it just doesn’t feel that way. Joy can seem so distant, like it’s buried beneath the surface or hidden within the dark. And on those days, the thought of being joyful just feels fake and inauthentic. But what if, instead of faking it, we pledged to be real this Advent — real with ourselves, with one another, and with God?

True, it would be much easier to put on a mask and pretend. But if we allow ourselves to fully experience the night, and everything that comes with it, we will be ready for the joy that comes in the morning.

Let’s be brave enough to be real together this Advent, completely present to each moment as we wait with expectation for what God is going to do next.

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Listen

Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”

Luke 3:7-9

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Think

I’m not crazy about John’s image of chopping down the tree and tossing it into the fire. It seems harsh, doesn’t it? But after a bit of research about how trees grow, it makes sense.

If a tree is cut down at its trunk, it can’t grow back again, because its roots no longer have access to the nutrients they need. Simply making some changes on the outside doesn’t work. Instead, something must happen beneath the surface to bring about new life.

In Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014), Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

In this season Advent, we wait in the dark for God’s light to come. But as we wait, perhaps God is inviting us to make a change from within. In your prayers, your thoughts, your hopes and dreams, your attitudes, your ideas about yourself, your perceptions about others — what changes do you need to make to allow God to bring about new life within you?

Mary Alice Birdwhistell

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Pray

God, it’s so easy to make surface level changes, but I know that the changes I make from within are the ones that matter the most. Help me to know what needs to be cut away in order to create space for new life to be birthed within me. Transform me from the inside out. Amen.

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Go

Be brave enough to be real.

Be curious about God’s world.

Be fully present to each moment.

Be gentle with yourself and with others.

Be filled with wonder.

And be ready for joy.

Mary Alice Birdwhistell

Mary Alice Birdwhistell serves as the associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, where she enjoys sharing life with a beautifully diverse community of people. She is a graduate of Georgetown College in Kentucky and Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Texas, and she claims both states to be “home.” Mary Alice loves the color purple, anything chocolate, and Kentucky basketball.

Advent: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Mark Hayes

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