We certainly don’t have Advent “figured out,” but there are a few traditions that we have established as a family in order to help us prepare our hearts. Maybe they can inspire you!
Brenda Rebro, International Volunteer (US)
Since I was a little girl, my very favourite Christmas decoration was our nativity scene. It was the one decoration that I was eager to put up on my own. Placing the animals outside of the stable, the shepherd nearby watching over the sheep, the wise men off in the distance coming with their gifts, Mary and Joseph tending to baby Jesus. For me, it was and still is the one decoration that truly symbolises the true meaning of the season – the birth of Jesus.
Daytona Swarbrick (International Volunteer, Canada) reflects on the season of advent:
Time. I remember it not feeling real. The clock was relentless. The sun coming through the windows seemed frozen in time, yet in that moment, there was nothing I could do to wrestle time into submission. A countdown had started that could not be stopped.
The season of Advent begins today. As we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ to us, we remember that we are called to visit others as Jesus visited us. At Hands at Work, the foundation of our care is holy home visits. Christa and Daytona, two of our international volunteers, explore how God has called us to wait on Him, serve the most vulnerable children, and keep our hearts focused on what the coming of Christ truly means.
Holy Home Visits
by Christa Roby
In the formative years of Hands at Work, a group of people joined together with a heart to care for the many patients dying of HIV and AIDS. Through this time of visiting patients in their homes, another layer of need was discovered: the orphaned child. These children were wandering in the streets and hiding behind closed doors. They were the lost, the broken, and the abandoned. Having lost their families to HIV and AIDS, and with little to no support, they did not know where to turn or how to care for themselves. They had no voice and were slipping between the cracks. Hands at Work became attuned to the harsh reality these children were living in and knew they must act. If they did not step in to support these children, where would their hope lie? In response to the cry of their hearts, Hands at Work entered into a season of committed prayer. The result was a deep conviction by God saying the way forward was to build personal relationships through home visits, being very intentional to seek out the most vulnerable children in their communities, those who otherwise might not be found.
Visiting an orphaned child in their home is to act on behalf of the absent parent. During that visit, the opportunity is given to a child to put aside the stresses of home, of responsibility, and just be a child. Home visits demand time, and can only be effective with the right desire of heart: the choice to go, and the willingness to get to know the child’s name and story. A home visit is beneficial, not just in understanding the external needs, but in spending time to engage with a child’s hurting heart, therefore bringing value and worth into their soul. Home visits may carry a high personal cost of time, emotion, and energy. But like the gospel, they bring transformation. We know we have been adopted into Christ's family and we want to see the same realisation in our children. We cannot create a culture of changing lives through brief service. Change does not come quickly; it comes with time and commitment.
Hands at Work is being reminded that the core of a home visit is in what Christ has done for us. He found us in our deepest time of need, visited us, invested in our lives, and renewed in us who we are. It is essential that during home visits, we wait. We wait for Christ to show up. We wait on His leading. We often wait even for the words to say. But we know that in our waiting, there is always something to come. We are expectant people.
Waiting on the Messiah
by Daytona Swarbrick
We do not put life on pause to wait, but we continue to wait, as we have for years - thousands of them. We wait patiently sometimes, and with desperation at other times. We are waiting on God. As the Israelites waited in Egypt for God to show up, we wait today. As the prophet Isaiah awaited the time when the Messiah would arrive, so we wait each year.
And now we wait again, expectantly, during this advent season. We await the celebration of the nativity. Nativity is that incarnation - that coming - that we have been waiting patiently and desperately for, for so many years. Even as we are aware of the coming of the Messiah so long ago, we live in this tension of the now and that which is to come. There is an imminence that is felt and seen in the faithful practice of love. We see this evidence of the kingdom of God here and now, and yet we still wait for His presence in places where pain and poverty and death persist. Patiently and desperately, faithfully and hopefully we wait for God to show up. As we wait, life happens around us; with colour and vitality at times, but often just in the mundane.
There are homes we enter that have mud and stick walls with sparse thatching on the roof, doing little to dissuade the torrential African rains. We sit with grandmothers who are struggling to find food for the children that have been left in their care. Sitting in those homes, doctrine and theology somehow lose their value. At that moment, when we sit amidst the pain, and see eyes of fear, and understand a little of what grieves the grandmother and what gives her life, we understand our dependence on the Messiah. We must wait. Together, humbly, we approach the throne and wait for God to "show up" for us. How can we do anything less? What could be better? To be in the presence of God together is what we long for. Do we not say, "OUR Father...Your name is Holy. Let your kingdom come here on Earth as it is in your perpetual presence"?
We wait for the advent of our Lord, this Emmanuel. We do this faithfully and hopefully. Each year, the church enters this season as a symbol to keep the focus of the Messiah close to our hearts. December 1st, 2013 begins that season again. May we all experience the coming of Emmanuel this season and in each moment when we dare to approach God together, and wait.