The anticipation in my household is palpable: Christmas is almost here. The heightened sense of expectation in my home with four children began some time back in October when we had our first cold snap and we had to scrape ice off of our windshields. “Daddy, since there is ice on your truck, that must mean Christmas is coming soon!” Already she has learned the rhythms of our world, and the joy that comes with living according to them.
Her enthusiasm for rhythm and a steady pace reminds me of the poem by Wendell Berry entitled, “The Peace of Wild Things.” The poem speaks to our need to connect to that “Something Greater,” that rhythm of life to which we naturally belong that helps give perspective to our lives.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things,
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water,
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world and I am free.
There is something powerful about submitting to the rhythms God has established in our world…to live according to the pace that God gives us through the earth’s solar orbit and its tilted axis. This rhythm that we symbolize through the use of a calendar encourages Christians to cease their striving, not just on a weekly basis with the Sabbath, but periodically throughout the year with holidays like Christmas.
Stopping to “rest in the grace” is especially necessary when we find ourselves submerged in the myth that we are sovereign over our experiences and relationships. We run around like chickens without heads pretending to conquer this or that, especially in the early part of the Christmas season. We rush to accomplish and achieve, oftentimes “for the Lord.”
Why should a small group meeting contribute to this madness? Better yet, how can a small group help its members embrace the rhythms and pace God’s world brings during a season of crazy? Consider these two things.
First, preach perspective. The advent season is an excellent time for resetting the pace of our lives because it reminds us that the world was changed forever through the humble barnyard birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Lowly (that is, despised by men) shepherds ignored their flocks for a view of the newborn Jesus. Wise men recognized something significant was afoot and set about a 900-mile journey to witness the miracle. Herod perceived a threat and went to great lengths to eliminate. The birth of Jesus changed everyone’s perspective about what was important, and every year we have this season on our calendar to help us do just that: preach perspective. What better relationships for calling attention to this than the ones with whom we do community on a regular basis?
Second, model the message. There is a temptation during this season of finals, projects, and retail insanity to break the rhythm of church attendance and group gathering in the name of “spreading liberty” to stressed-out people who could use one less obligation. But if the small group is the place where perspective is preached, then the regular gathering of that group is a model for that perspective. Model the message. Keep meeting as a means of reinforcing the truth that living in a rhythm protects us from believing the lie that we control our lives.
I was recently playing in the yard with my youngest two, taking their hands into mine and spinning around and around until I got dizzy enough to believe I could no longer safely whirl them. Isn’t it funny how you don’t feel the earth’s rhythm until you try to replace it with your own? And once you figure that out…once you stop and rest your rhythm to the earth’s…it’s all good. May we do the same this Christmas—may we settle our lives to the rhythm the Advent season brings and reap the benefits as a result.
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for 17 years. They have four children: Trey, Jonathan, Abby, and Luke. He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at Lifeway Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.