Advent is supposed to be a time of preparation and expectation for Christians. For a pastor, it is filled with mixed blessings. Sometime in September the pace begins to increase. Attendance increases but also all of the programs, leadership recruitment, financial campaign, budget adjustments, regular meetings, etc.
Then Advent appears on the horizon. As a pastor, you know that from the beginning of Advent through Easter the demands of ministry are going to be exhausting. Therefore, with Advent beginning, this year on November 30, it is important that you be intentional about how you are going to breathe in the Spirit for renewal even as you are pouring yourself out on behalf of the congregation and the community.
I ALREADY HAVE AN APPOINTMENT
I would suggest that you take down your appointment calendar and identify at least an hour twice a week for your own Advent experience. Sometimes that may work best early in the morning, maybe a private lunch, or even an hour before you leave the office. The important thing is deliberately to mark it in your calendar. Sometimes emergencies will interfere, but if it is marked down, you are more likely to shift it to another date that week but still have the experience.
Let me propose four experiences that can integrate Advent into your life even as you rush on trying to encourage others in their spiritual journey.
Let the Scriptures Feed You Personally:
Regardless of whether you use the lectionary for worship, use your first hour of week one to read the three psalms offered in Year B—Psalm 80, 85, and 126. (They offer the Magnificat for the fourth week, Luke 17-55.) Don’t look for sermon themes. Allow God’s Spirit to address you in your current place in ministry. Consistent with Advent, what expectations might be waiting to be born in your near future?
During the second hour of the week, read the epistles offered in Year B—1 Corinthians 1:3-9, 2 Peter 3:8-15, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, and Romans 16: 25-27. Again, you are reading for yourself and your own spiritual nurture. Take your time and let your mind wander and be stimulated by some phrases that leap out to you.
Let Music Lift Your Spirit:
The music of Advent from any hymnbook can be a resource for you. During the two hours of this week, I encourage you to pay particular attention to the third verse of several Advent hymns. Unless you are a skilled singer, just read the verses and let the words evoke thoughts about your ministry and what you are preparing for in the future. Some suggestions are the third verse in such hymns as “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Comfort, Comfort You My People,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” “O come, O Come, Emanuel,” and “Watchman, Tell of the Night.” :You may be surprised at the meatiness of the third verses. If Advent is a time of preparation, what is God preparing you for in your ministry?
Open Your Life in Prayer:
We lead people in prayer during worship, beside their bed, and in community events, but sometimes, except for a desperate prayer for strength, we are too busy to take time to allow prayers to nurture our own spirit. If you look at the Book of Common Worship published by the Presbyterian Church, you will find on pages 165-177 a series of prayers for the Advent Season. They offer three prayers for the day for each of the four weeks. You might want to focus on week one and two for the first hour you have set aside and week three and four for the second hour. Don’t just read the prayers. Take time to meditate and reflect on each of these prayers and how the Spirit can intercede for you (Romans 8:26).
Walking and Listening:
As you enter the fourth week, you may be experiencing exhaustion from the pace and have trouble avoiding the thought of wanting it to just be over. Yet you have been preparing to hear Good News. Don’t feel guilty, but it is time for a change of pace. On this fourth week, I encourage you to make use of some form of labyrinth to open you to what God is saying. If you have a labyrinth available to you, that is excellent. If you don’t, try imagining the sidewalk as your own personal labyrinth. Go for a walk around the block but allow some natural markers in the sidewalk, a prominent tree, or building to provide signals, like in a labyrinth, to pause and reflect on your ministry and where God is leading you.
Perhaps on the second hour of your week, you might shift your focus slightly and probe what it might mean to have the same “mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” as you look towards the next year in ministry.