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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Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem. The Lord has removed your judgment; he has turned away your enemy. The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you will no longer fear evil. On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem: Don’t fear, Zion. Don’t let your hands fall. The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:14-17

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In the poem, “Sometimes” (2008), Mary Oliver says these are the “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

When is the last time you and I can say that we were really astonished at something? And if it’s been awhile, perhaps a better question for us to ask is, when is the last time we were really paying attention?

More and more, I’m convinced that paying attention is the most important spiritual work we can do. To be present to the people and the moments God has entrusted to us. To be curious. To notice the burning bushes that lie just beyond the beaten path. To be mindful of the ways in which God is with us — and mindful of the ways in which God seems absent. Even, or perhaps especially, in the dark times, to relentlessly watch for each and every small spark of light.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,” Zephaniah reminds us. Maybe we will catch a glimpse this Advent… if only we would pay attention.

Mary Alice Birdwhistell

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God, as I make my way through Advent, help me to pay attention to the ways that you are with me. May I live each moment with eyes wide open, that I might be astonished by your birth in my world, and in my life. Amen.

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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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