Dear Church Family,

Advent is here! I hope and pray that God’s gifts of hope, peace, love, and joy overflow for you all in this season. And I think of a little verse tucked into the stories around the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. The verse is Luke 1:80:

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

 Luke’s talking about the childhood of John the Baptist, before the full-fledged ministry of Jesus. This verse has always grabbed my attention around Christmas time, because of that idea of John the Baptist spending so much time in solitude in the “wilderness,” or the desert. It strikes me that intentional solitude can be a helpful preparation for the celebration of Jesus.

John apparently did not feel rushed to join people in their busyness around the coming of Jesus. Rather, John the Baptist intentionally stayed out of the way so that he could eventually prepare the way of the Lord.

I think that’s a great reminder during this time of the year, as social and familial demands arise. Yes, we want to spend time with each other and share God’s love during this season as we’re able. But as we prepare to celebrate, solitude may be key to that. Solitude—that time in the wilderness with God—can help bring a harvest of the fruit of the Spirit. Solitude can bring that harvest if we practice it with prayer and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let me invite you then to imitate John the Baptist at points in the next few weeks. No, you don’t have to limit your holiday diet to grasshoppers and honey! Just let me invite you to take a breath in the busyness. Intentionally work solitude into your Christmas schedule. If God then leads you to grieve over sin or suffering that you see in the world or in your own life, that’s very John the Baptist-like! And that may open the way for Jesus to come and do something new in your life and in the lives of others through his Spirit.

Take a moment away from people to be with God. Maybe that means (and I’m talking to myself here most of all) putting away the smartphone for a while, or at least resisting the urge to check it without thinking. When I get the urge to rely too much on technology for entertainment, or check my phone without thinking, I should focus on a Scripture or on prayer instead. In all this I’m hoping to go deeper with God and learn a lesson from John the Baptist: solitude can be a helpful preparation for the celebration.

Hope, peace, love and joy to you all in Jesus,