You probably know well the stories that surround the Christmas events. Maybe you love them or maybe you’re a little bored with them, but something makes you want to experience Christ in Christmas in a fuller way. In partnership with BeADisciple, The Upper Room is offering a new course this Advent which will plunge us into Advent “first-hand” while teaching us to engage Scripture in a new way. Even if you cannot take our course, consider these ideas as you begin your own journey toward the Nativity.
The focus of our time together will be much more than to remember the Christmas story. We will aim to experience the events of Christmas ourselves. As you read the Word, you are invited to “taste and see,” to imagine the tangible elements in the stories and the probable feelings of the characters. For example, try to imagine how Mary, a young teenager, must have felt as God’s messenger approached her. Historical and cultural facts provide context and a means of stepping into these events and these lives for a while. While you probably desire to go deeper during Advent in order to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way, be prepared for God to speak to you in ways that meet deep needs within you as you immerse yourself in the Story of Redemption.
[su_quote]While facts are important in Bible reading, there’s more.[/su_quote]
A Different Way to Read
In school we read textbooks to gather facts that would be included later on in a test (study). While facts are important in Bible reading, there’s more. If you also want to get to know God or experience God, you’ll need to explore the events a little more (meditation). Both study and meditation are valuable, but there are differences. In study, we are asking the question “What is the text saying? What do the words mean?” In meditation, we consider: “What is God saying to me? What is God inviting me to consider?”
The advantage of meditating on scripture is that we not only get to know God better, but we are usually changed from the inside out. Our thoughts and feelings change, which then changes our behavior in an organic way. We want to grow as God is guiding us to be and do differently. Meditating on scripture reorganizes our thoughts, feelings, and motives “so that [we] may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.” (Josh. 1:8)
Using of the “Movie Method”
As you seek to encounter the biblical text first-hand, we encourage you to use what can be called “participative” meditation: you become a part of the story in some way. You participate in it through your imagination so that the event becomes a movie in your mind. This is, of course, how the Jews celebrate Passover—by entering the story as they eat the food and converse at the table. Christians have used participative meditation for centuries as well, especially those who have learned the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, which guide people into experiences of Jesus’ life through the prayerful use of the imagination.
[su_quote]You become a part of the story in some way. You participate in it through your imagination so that the event becomes a movie in your mind.[/su_quote]
But I Don’t Have A Good Imagination!
Most people have a vivid imagination, but they think they don’t. To prove you have a vivid imagination, answer this question: Do you worry? If so, you have an imagination because you have asked yourself What if?… many times and come up with vivid answers.
Here’s another example. Think of a lemon. Now think of cutting a lemon into four pieces. Now think about putting a piece of lemon in your mouth–quick, what comes to mind? What’s happening inside your mouth right now? Has your imagination kicked into gear based on the fuel from your past experiences of the sour taste and tartness of touching a lemon with your tongue? If so, you have a skilled imagination!
[su_quote]Think of how Christ’s mind was filled with stories, images and hopes drawn from God’s history with the people of God.[/su_quote]Perhaps you don’t want to use your imagination because you are afraid it might get you into trouble. You’ve imagined yourself telling your boss what you really think! In that case, your imagination is still a gift from God, but it needs to be retrained to image God-stuff. The imagination’s potential for misleading can be reconfigured by the mind of Christ, which Paul claims that we possess (1 Cor. 2:16). Think of how Christ’s mind was filled with stories, images and hopes drawn from God’s history with the people of God–you see that “imagination can become a penetrating force.” The more you immerse yourself in scriptural meditations, the more skilled your imagination will become.
Next week, we will give you an opportunity to practice cultivating your imagination and immersing yourself in the biblical story through the lens of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Stay tuned!
The content in this post was taken from Taste & See: Experiencing the Stories of Advent and Christmas, by Jan Johnson. You can sign up to join us on this exploratory journey here.
Jan Johnson is a writer, speaker, and spiritual director who holds degrees in Christian education and spirituality. She is the author of seventeen books including Enjoying the Presence of God, When the Soul Listens, Savoring God’s Word, and many magazine articles. She is also a frequent retreat and conference speaker. For more information about her writings and speaking engagements see http://janjohnson.org/.
Post Image: The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, Oil on canvas, 1898