Preparing for the Journey by Rachael Keefe


written by Rachael Keefe

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The last Sunday of the liturgical year (Christ the King/Reign of Christ) has been observed. While stores have had Christmas items out since before Halloween, before the sunset on Thanksgiving Christmas filled the stores. We’re in the midst of it now, the beloved or dreaded “holiday season.” The funny thing is that Advent doesn’t start until next week. No matter what chaos is erupting around us, we still have time to prepare for the journey to Bethlehem. It’s a spiritual journey, but like any good trip, a little planning can create a more fulfilling experience. We need a little preparation if we are going to heed the Baptist’s cry and “Prepare the way of the Lord” while also navigating the demands of the season.

Let’s take a breath and contemplate what lies ahead. I don’t know about you, but my calendar is full of things I have to do and things I want to do. What isn’t on there are the things I need to do to take care of myself during the business of Advent. It would be wise to put a some of these self-care things in there and actually do them. I admit that when I get busy, I cut back on the spiritual practices that center me most. It’s foolish, but it’s true. And, of course, the more I neglect things like journaling and creating art, the less centered I become and the more the expectations of the season get me off track. The first thing I will take with me on this journey to Bethlehem is time for myself.

When I take time to be still, I remember that no one has the perfect Norman Rockwell or Hallmark Christmas. What waits for us in Bethlehem isn’t the promise of perfection in all things. We take the trip to the manger each year so to remember the vulnerability of Love and the possibility of wholeness no matter what has happened in our lives. It’s easy to be distracted by false images of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Perfection, flawlessness, is not required. We are invited to bring our whole selves on this journey, leaving nothing behind. The second thing I will bring on this trip is all of my hopes and all of my fears, my wholeness and my brokenness.

If I can do this, then the chaos around me isn’t so overwhelming and the push for perfection loses a bit of it’s power. While the journey is personal, that doesn’t mean any of us should go alone. The only way to navigate the busyness of the coming weeks is to surround ourselves with people who know us, accept us, and love us exactly where we are. Among the obligations Advent brings, must be time with close friends and family. How else will any of us experience the hope, peace, joy, or love this season can bring? I’m adding a bit more to my calendar – time to connect with those who know me and love me best.

This journey to Bethlehem can be long and arduous even though it is only 24 days. It’s easy to get lost in anxiety, depression, loneliness, addiction, and other things that can be triggered by the expectations we have for the season. It’s good to think ahead, plan ahead, and hold on to spiritual practices that will get us to the manger and maybe open us to the wonder and beauty of Advent itself. I’m going to try very hard to take time to be still and know that God is God and this season is all about remembering the amazing Light that nothing can extinguish. Perfection is not required and none of us need journey alone. May we all pack with care and not miss where God is breaking into the world once again.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author, and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.