How does your December calendar look? For many, this is one of the fullest months of the year! Holiday concerts, multiple family Christmas gatherings, staff parties, secret santa gift exchanges. All of these festive celebrations can deliver sleighs full of joy; they also can lead to massive seasonal resentment and exhaustion.

Before we step into the month ahead, let’s pause and visualize an umbrella. We’ll call it the Advent umbrella. Let’s visualize everything we do this month as resting underneath the wider umbrella of Advent. Doing so can lead to a deepened sense of meaning and value held within all the experiences of the coming weeks.

Advent begins tomorrow. With its arrival, we enter into four weeks of watchful waiting and anticipation. Advent ushers the way for Christmas. Instead of rushing right into the manger scene to meet the infant Jesus, we instead slow down and pay attention. During Advent, we await Jesus’ birth and we also wait for the day when he will someday come again. Advent is about preparing our hearts to shift ever-more deeply toward a God who puts on flesh and dwells within and among us.

Sometimes it can be valuable to add a special individual or family ritual to the four weeks of Advent. An Advent wreath. A daily Scripture reading. Morning meditation. Weekly worship.

All of those ideas can be great! But they can also feel like "one more thing" in a life that already feels hurried and frenetic. What if, instead, we just visualize the Advent umbrella? What if we remind ourselves and one another that all these different concerts and parties and gatherings are connected the bigger story of Jesus?

What if we focus not so much on the busyness but instead on the gift of the many and various ways we get to participate in a sacred season?

December is almost here. Breathe. Look through your calendar. If it’s too full and there are a couple things you can cancel, do it! Expressing a clear "no" can make space for a more meaningful "yes."

If there aren’t any margins for cancellations, then take another deep breath. Step underneath the Advent umbrella. Visualize this month’s activities as all being part of a bigger story. Every detail of this month can lead us toward a deeper sense of connectedness to what Advent is truly all about.

One of the most significant reasons we sing, celebrate and gather this time of year (in many and various ways) is because it equips us to better prepare for the ongoing transformative nature of the incarnation (God in human form).

There’s an Advent hymn with words by Susan Palo Sherwin to help us stay grounded in December. The hymn is "As the Dark Awaits the Dawn." Sherwin writes, "As the moon reflects the sun, until the night’s decrease, may we your healing light release, living peace, living peace, unto your holy dawn."

May all who feel wearied by full December calendars, step under the Advent umbrella and into God’s living peace. We are called to give and receive the healing light of Jesus! God, grant us the courage to slow down enough this month to recognize You.