Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise.

“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly . . .” -Luke 21:34, RSV

“But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise . . .” Luke 21:34, The Message

This Sunday’s New Testament reading was from Luke, and while its apocalyptic message was not exactly the tone we usually think of for the first Sunday of Advent, I liked the message of hope and renewal, of looking ahead. I read something this week that was talking about remembering Advent as a time of expectation and preparation, not as a time to get all sentimental about Baby Jesus, and I thought about that when we discussed these verses in Sunday School and heard them again during service. The verse above may be about the end of the world, but it sounds like something we should remember this time of year: Don’t let the Day catch you unprepared! Don’t get so caught up in life that you forget to be readying your heart!

The Christmas season has caught me unawares this year, I must confess. By now, I normally have planned out my list and the baking so that the season won’t feel rushed, so that I can focus on preparing my heart. I didn’t plan ahead this year, though. I have been caught up in the present and not focusing on what was ahead. And so we have parties and plays and concerts that we’re attending, things that we choose to do as part of our Advent preparation, but that, this year, are making me feel as if there’s not quite enough time to do the baking and shopping. This weekend, I felt, was a bit of a crossroads for me: Was I going to continue feeling frantic, or was I going to let things go? In thinking about the next few weeks, am I going to sacrifice going to Christmas concerts at the church in order to bake? Wouldn’t that mean my priorities are out of order?

This weekend, trying to be mindful of all of that, I spent time with friends and made the cookie dough (and froze it for later), Mike and I started our Advent book, and I tried to clear the calendar for the things that are the most important, to see the shopping and baking as part of the celebration, part of the way I love my family, but not the main event.

Every year Advent comes around and I have to learn to prioritize in a new and different way. This year I am learning about life and circumstances and how to prepare my heart in the midst of grieving. I am thankful for the hope present in today’s verses, the hope of the candle that was lit this morning, the hope of a little baby who came to save us of our sin. Hope that rises above circumstances and helps me to remember not to let that Day take me by complete surprise.

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