Wake Up

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart..."   
—Luke 2:19

Tony Vega found himself in a very uncomfortable situation last week. Having just dropped off a bus load of children, Tony returned to lock up our Fairview facility for the night. As he walked up the church steps, a group of tough teens surrounded him, wanting to fight. "Guys," he pleaded, "I really don't want any trouble."  They weren't interested in negotiations. In a provocative gesture, one blew smoke in his face.

Now Tony is no novice to urban ministry.  He grew up in Camden. But this was making him nervous. And there was no one around to help.

Then, out of nowhere, came a shout from down the block. "Tony! Tony! Is that you?  Is that really you?"  Within seconds, a young woman bounded up the stairs and embraced Tony like a long lost friend. "You know this guy?" she said, turning to the group, who she obviously knew. "This is my old counselor. He's the greatest guy in the world. I used to be in his AfterSchool program." Within seconds, the tension dissolved, and the teens apologized and moved on down the street. "Molika saved me," confessed Tony in a later conversation.  "She dissolved a potentially violent situation, just because she knew me and knew those guys. She made peace."

A pastor recently described the Advent season as a trip to the gym to work on our spiritual attentiveness.  Once a year, he reminded the congregation, we need to wake up, start paying attention, and stop sleepwalking through our lives. He challenged us to pay attention to what God is doing in our midst. So how do I prepare for Christmas?  How can I really take advantage of this special season of Advent that calls me to a greater awareness?

One way is to ponder some of the key themes of the season—joy, peace, generosity, and wonder—and then intentionally look for expressions of these realities throughout the day. Perhaps these are the gifts God really wants to give me this season.  So I find myself looking for expressions of joy, moments of peace, acts of generosity, and bursts of wonder. And when I see these often-overlooked expressions of the season, I try to receive them as a gift. Like any treasured gift, I slowly unwrap it, hold it, look at it from different angles, and maybe even write down how the gift makes me feel.  

Tony's experience was an early gift, certainly to him but also to me. It reminds me that peace is possible, even in potentially volatile situations. It reminds me that God sometimes shows up in the most unusual places. We just need to be ready to recognize His gifts.

 Have you seen an expression of peace, joy, generosity today?  What would it mean to receive it as a gift?