Laying two bottles of shampoo on the counter in front of the cashier, a revelation slides through mental checklists and stops my hand from searching through my purse.

“Oh no! I’ve left my bank card at home,” I tell the woman staring at me, unaffected.

After she places the bottles in a basket at her feet, I sheepishly walk away, leave the store and enter a crowded street. Lodged in the corner of my coat pocket, I thumb a piece of paper scrawled with reminders of things to pick up, but instead of moving on to the next store, I trudge fifteen minutes back home.

Before braving the cold, I slipped bare feet into wool socks and layered sweaters over tops. I checked to make sure eyeglasses were inside my purse and shopping bags available. I pushed gloves into pockets, perused dates on coupons, and grabbed an umbrella just in case. I had everything I needed for potential outcomes but forget the most essential thing.

Like my little shopping excursion, our good intentions for making Advent meaningful can become empty if Christ becomes an afterthought.

We can be busy with lots of things – running errands, decorating rooms, cleaning up messes, and cooking special food, all in preparation for receiving guests, celebrating Christmas, and making moments festive. Everything might be ready, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, we are not.

As we begin our Advent pilgrimage I have two words for us.

Stay awake! Live as if all your activity is preparation for being surprised by grace.

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. Therefore, stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13

Joseph and Mary were running errands of sorts the day the Savior surprised them with grace. I like to think of Mary resting her head on Joseph’s shoulder while they wait in line among weary travelers. Startled by the undeniable sign: Stay awake! It’s time for Jesus’ arrival!

And they couldn’t just turn around and walk home.

In the tension of what is and what is to come, we discover what is essential.

What was essential for Joseph and Mary to welcome Jesus into the world?

God’s face shining upon them.

A barn in the absence of an inn, a manger in the place of a cozy bed, strips of cloth instead of a down blanket, a star making an announcement when mail service, social media and photo cards were not even a thing yet.

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved! Psalm 80

Advent is an awakening from sleepwalking through life. Because more than a perfectly decorated house, we need God’s face to shine upon us.

Make your lists and then ask this question: Is this item/activity/invitation/task essential or essentially useless?

What is crucial, necessary, vital, and indispensable for you to invite Christ to come into your world this week?

Lord, as I wait for you to come, create a hunger for holy surprise within me. Remind me of the essentials – faith, love, hope, charity — when I am prone to become distracted by comparison, coveting, and self-seeking. Forgive me when I make Christmas a list that leaves you at home. More than presents, I long for your presence to be apparent in all the minutes you give me. I long for your face to shine upon me. May I define abundance as a manger, strips of cloth, and a place to lay my weary head. Amen.

When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. Isaiah 64: 3-4

Our Advent conversation continues this Friday in the Sabbath Society letter. Join the community here and receive my weekly epistle quietly into your inbox every Friday morning at 6am EST. For further information about how to make Christmas more restful and less stressful begin here with the introduction and details about the series.

Recommended Resources for a More Meaningful Advent

Journeying to Bethlehem: An Advent Audio Devotional by Kimberly Coyle

Delivered to your inbox every Sunday. I listened to the first two weeks twice!

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Last year, I read and answered all the questions Ann poses at the end of each chapter. It made for a rich Advent season. I am diving in again this year.

Come, Lord Jesus by Kris Camealy

Everything Kris writes is bathed in prayer and surrender so you know if her name is attached, it’s meaningful content.

Living the Season Well: Reclaiming Christmas by Jody Collins

I haven’t read this one yet. I share a story about Jody in Rhythms of Rest and she’s a Sabbath peep so how can I not share about her lovely book! Here’s an endorsement from Author, Michelle DeRusha, “Written with warmth, approachability and humor and filled with practical, applicable suggestions, Living the Season Well will guide you on a journey toward slowing down, simplifying and savoring the moments of the holiday season.” This book is particularly well-suited for parents or grandparents who are walking through Advent with young children – lots of ideas for easy, uncomplicated (read: not going to make your life busier than it already is!) creative projects.”

A Simple Advent Guide by Tsh Oxenreider

Based on The Book of Common Prayer, this is a simple guide for those who want to learn more about the true meaning of Advent.

December Printable Calendar by Yours Truly and the creative team at Bethany House

Daily prompts from the twelfth chapter of Rhythms of Rest to help you persevere in making Christmas more restful and less stressful. Find the download in this blog post.