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As my family approaches the holidays this year, life is a bit different.  We decided months ago that we would visit our California family over Christmas break.  Now that we are traveling with four, we realized the travel expenses would set us back quite a bit.  Having noticed the last couple of years how much we are spending on gifts for the kids, we decided that the trip will function as our Christmas.  My in-laws are also gifting the family a couple of days at Disneyland, which we agreed would function as their Christmas gift.  So instead of “stuff” we are concentrating on “adventure” or “experiences.”

It took some explaining and questions, but we seem to have everyone on board with the new concept.  Personally, I did not mind giving up gifts.  But what took me by surprise was how much I would miss having a live Christmas tree.   I love everything about decorating a live tree:  the smell, stringing the lights, recalling the memories of each ornament, all while sipping eggnog and listening to Christmas songs play in the background.  But the danger of the fire hazard while we are away means the tree-related boxes will stay sealed this year.

For the last week or so, I was grieving the change in our Christmas traditions.  But this week, as Advent rapidly approaches, I realized that my grief is fading, and instead, a sense of relief has overcome me.  You see, instead of running around getting gifts, I am able to imagine the calm of Advent that I always preach about, but rarely get to experience.  Instead of working frantically to get a tree and find a meeting-free night to decorate the tree, I can pull out our Advent wreath, Advent devotional, and our creches from around the world to decorate the house.  I have often heard the encouragement to simplify for Advent, but have rarely figured out how to accomplish the goal.  This year, the unintended consequences of decisions have done it for me.  And I could not be more grateful.

Now I am not suggesting you chuck all your holiday traditions about the window.  But I wonder what things or thing you might let go of this year in order to relieve some of the pressures we find in Advent.  Too often we take the “prepare” message of Advent like Martha does with Jesus.  We run around buying, baking, partying, planning, decorating, and distracting.  Maybe this Advent we can be a little more like Martha’s sister Mary, finding ways to sit at the feet of Jesus – or perhaps at the empty manger – preparing our hearts for his nativity.  I suspect that the extra room you create in your heart might be just the room Jesus and his family need when they can find no room in the inn.