The "Stuff" Of Advent and Christmas

I sent my parents into shock this week.

Arriving for a few days' visit, I got out of the car, purse on my shoulder and overnight bag in my hand. After our hugs and greetings, they opened the car doors. They looked around inside. When their heads reemerged, I could see that they were puzzled.

"What are you doing?" I asked, equally puzzled by their sudden nosiness.

"Where's the rest of your stuff?" Mom asked.

I held up the small bag. "This is all my stuff."

They looked at each other and began laughing. The light bulb went off for me at that point. We didn't have to say anything. I knew what they were thinking about now.

When I would come home on breaks from college, it took us multiple trips to the car to unload all my "stuff." Folks, it was quite simple: I needed two suitcases of clothes for a week-long break. After all, who knew where I'd be going, what I'd be doing, and with whom I'd go out? This girl needed multiple clothing options! Two additional bags were necessary for my embarrassingly large shoe collection: sneakers, high heels, low heels, no heels, dressy boots, casual boots, sandals, closed-toe, open-toe. Then there was the toiletries bag. The laundry bag was usually full, and I needed another bag in which to pack the laundry once it was clean and folded. Then there was a bag of books, a bag of gifts for everyone, a stack of CDs for listening, a purse, etc. My room often looked like baggage claim of an airport by the time unloading was complete. It is no surprise that one year my dad gave me a T-shirt that read "Will Work For Shoes."

Granted, there are times when we travel that large loads are necessary, especially for long trips that include children and multiple family members. But I am the first to confess that my college packing days were a bit excessive. As I carried the little bag of basic necessities into my parents' house a few days ago, I gave thanks for the lessening of "stuff" in my own life over the years.

The season of Advent provides us with an invitation to simplify. While the secularism of Christmas encourages us to acquire more material things, the Christ-child of the manger calls us to cut back. Beth Richardson, editor of Alive Now magazine, summarizes this calling beautifully in the title of her book, The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas.* As I think about the physical clutter that still surrounds me, I wonder about the spiritual clutter of our hearts. What if we took time during this busy season to ask God to help us clear out the unnecessary "stuff?" What is keeping us from living in full communion with him? What is clouding our joy and stifling our peace within?

As I prepare to go on my monthly pastoral prayer retreat tomorrow, I plan to put this preaching into practice by taking a Bible, a pen, and a pad of paper. Normally, a bag of books and electronic devices accompany me on this venture. But this time, I go with the simple request that God would clear the clutter: in me personally, in these precious parishes that I serve, in this community, and in our Church. Will you join with me in this prayer that we would cast off the excessive "stuff" and embrace the simplicity of God's unconditional love?

all good things (and less baggage) to each of you,
Pastor Darian