Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas: Four weeks of guided reflection through the season of Advent will help sweep out all the stuff that gets in the way of preparing your heart for the coming of the Christ child.
God is waiting for you to remember. Advent is a time to prepare our lives — hearts, minds and spirits — for the coming of the Christ child. We sweep out the corners of our hearts, cleaning up the clutter, to make space for God's hope, peace, joy, love and presence. Great plan, poor execution.
"Advent is often the busiest time of the year," writes Richardson. "And yet, we are called to make time and space to prepare our lives for the coming of the Christ child. What a challenge. …No matter how busy we may become, God is waiting to break through our endless tasks and distractions to remind us that we are not alone."
The Uncluttered Heart offers four weeks of guided reflection through the weeks of Advent on through Epiphany. Each day provides a quotation, scripture passage, reflection and prayer.
Stop and connect with God this Christmas. Remember God as much as you can. Even unplanned pauses such as watching a child laugh at Santa's post in the mall remind you of God's presence and help you maintain a true center in this holy time. This practice is a skill developed over time and learned over a lifetime. And the gifts are bountiful.
This book includes a study guide for groups.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beth A. Richardson serves as the Director of Electronic Publishing for Upper Room Ministries. She began The Upper Room’s web ministry in 1996 with the launch of upperroom.org. A native of Oklahoma, she holds a B.A. from Oklahoma City University and a M.Div. from Vanderbilt University School of Divinity. She wrote extensively for Alive Now magazine when she served as its Associate Editor; and she contributed stories to two volumes of The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible. She is an ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church.
What was your first favorite Advent song?
My childhood memories are of Christmas music — "Away in the Manger," "O Come, All Ye Faithful." The power of these eclipses any memories of Advent songs. I guess that's why it's so hard to stick with season-appropriate hymns during Advent and not dip into the Christmas songs.
My first Advent music performance was “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” (Although a saint, he's not necessarily at the heart of the Christmas Story and definitely not for Advent.) I remember singing it at a Sunday night worship service during Advent. I must have been about 9 or 10. I had learned the song and accompanied myself on the bass ukulele. I think Mom and Dad were proud, despite the non-liturgical nature of this offering.
During high school, I remember loving the song, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” That was from the musical "Godspell." I think that would qualify as an Advent song. I also loved “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I really like the sense of longing that these hymns evoke — both through their words and through the music. It reflects the human longing on so many levels — longing for connection with God and others; longing for happiness; longing for a vacation(!).
How has music shaped your spiritual journey?
I grew up in a musical family. My paternal grandmother was a music teacher — she taught music in public school and also taught piano out of her home. She and Grandpa sang in the church choir. My dad is also musical. He was blessed with a beautiful tenor voice and occasionally sang solos in worship at the churches he served. (He was a United Methodist pastor.) Mom sang in the choir at church, and I joined the choir by late elementary school age.
Music was very important to me. It was something I was good at — and that's an important thing to have when you move around a lot in your growing up years. I could always fit in through my music. I had a place at school, at the church, with friends, through a love of music.
Music opens my heart to the moving of the spirit. I can be totally focused on me and my stuff — even during worship. Hearing a piece of music while deep in my self-centered thoughts snaps me back to where I am and helps me be in touch with God. Music can be prayer; either through listening or singing, the music becomes a prayer from my heart.
What do you hope people will get from your book?
I wrote the book thinking about the things that we all need during the insanely hectic Advent season. It's horrible to get to the last days before Christmas, only to discover that there's hardly a bit of spirituality left anywhere. I need ways to center myself, slow down my life, and connect with God during those demanding days.
I hope readers of the book will find some unique suggestions, helpful tools, some new ways of thinking about the season. I want the book to be a gift — offering little glimpses of peace and serenity through intentional relationship with the Spirit. I believe the presence of the Advent music will help. The words and tunes of the hymns I chose will help us stay in the “not-yet-ness” of the season.
Why did you decide to write an Advent book?
I've always loved Advent. When I was a child, my parents always got a little booklet from the church that had an Advent liturgy for families. On Sundays we would gather around the Advent wreath and do the liturgy together. We kids helped to lead the liturgy, according to our abilities. As we learned to read, we led the prayers or read the scripture. As my brothers and I learned to play the piano, we accompanied the family in singing a hymn.
When I was in grade school, my dad sculpted a beautiful Advent wreath and créche out of copper wire. That's the Advent wreath that sticks in my memory.
I remember thinking how great it would be to write one of those booklets for Advent. I guess that's been a lifelong aspiration — to write an Advent book ….
How do you envision this book being used?
I see individuals using the book by themselves, carving out a little bit of time each day during the short December days to read a meditation. I hope they will carry with them thoughts, prayers, or scripture throughout the day. Or, at least, the song of the day will be running through their mind and heart as they work or go to school or take on daily tasks.
I also hope this book will be adopted by groups who need support finding their center during Advent. It could be Sunday school groups, Advent study groups or other small groups. I hope choirs will covenant to read the book together during Advent and sing and pray together the "Song Prayer" in the first meditation of each week as they gather for rehearsal.
Pastors or church leaders also may find a way to use some of the prayers or reflection exercises with groups or in worship during the Advent season.
And, I envision the book being used all the way until January 6. I'm a bit passionate about this — Christmas goes for 12 days — so I hope readers won't put it away too soon. I've given them the tools that will allow them to savor the time they've worked so hard to prepare for!
How do you think you'll experience Advent after writing this book?
I think it's going to be a very musical Advent this year! I'll have my own, personal “Advent Musak” going in my head all the time. I'm looking forward to it.