It’s December 14th and I’m just now sitting down to think about Christmas. Actually, I have thought about it, but we all know the difference between thoughts and actions. Earlier this week I had a big party to help our friends in Ghana, so I did get the house decorated. And we made over $2,000 so it was completely worth it. And by the way, if you came or donated, I am grateful to you beyond words.
Today, the party is behind me and I’m making gift lists, planning meals and laboring over whether Christmas cards are really worth it. We never take enough family pictures, so I’m leaning towards no. I was also starting to hunt down that really great Advent devotional book so we can focus on what this season is supposed to be about. Most years, the week before December begins, I scrape together some kind of special every-night Advent moment so that we can take 15 minutes out of our day to remember that we are waiting for Light, peace, rest, deliverance, and joy. Christmas is about celebrating, but first, we wait. And every year when we observe these Advent rituals, it occurs to me that much of it is a bit repetitive. We light candles, sing songs about the Christ-child, read scripture, meditate. My kids liked the Advent Conspiracy videos we watched last year, but they were glitchy on some nights and so we spent time troubleshooting technology. This will immediately and completely ruin an Advent moment, so I’m bypassing that one this year. It’s possible that I’ve run through every Advent-family-together-time option out there and maybe this is the year to take a break and let everyone experience this in their own way. And I wonder if the sameness of our little Advent exercises causes the whole thing to become meaningless and trite. I don’t want that. Goodness knows that my kids have been in church long enough to have every exciting adventure God might allow to be turned into a study, a program, or something to be completed in a six-week course. I’ve seen them roll their eyes when I came into the room during the Christmas season – Bible under my arm and a shoebox filled with clever little symbols of the season. Those were the years of the Jesse Advent Tree. Nothing wrong with it, but it wore out its welcome about two years before I finally packed it up. And they tiptoed to the four corners of the house (the bathroom was always a good hiding place) when I commanded them to lead our Advent devotionals. It’s not that they don’t love Jesus; they just don’t always like me to orchestrate how they should express that love.
I was lost on the whole family Advent plan, then, I read this beautiful post.
The beauty of Advent is that we get to experience it in a new way every year by doing the same things every year. We sing Advent hymns, light Advent candles, read Advent scriptures. These things are the same. What makes them new each year is the fact that we are never the same person twice. Every year that passes between Advents brings a new set of experiences. We have new triumphs and failures, new joys and sorrows, and each one changes us. It is that new person who rediscovers what it means to be people of God’s kingdom each time they celebrate Advent. The sorrow of lost loved ones and the joy of new babies help us to better understand what it is to be people of joy.
I am not the same person that I was on December 14, 2012. And, I suspect, neither are you. There has been joy and sorrow, loss and blessing, storms and beauty, and so many other moments during the past year’s journey. These transform the sameness of Advent into a fresh awakening. I understand better that God does not need me to fulfill His plans and purposes, but rather allows me join His story. And as I have attempted to reign in a sort of restless energy to “do”, I have also realized that God can use that restlessness if it is laid on the altar in faith and trust. The sorrows I have experienced and watched in others this past year have continued to smooth my rough edges. And the uncertainty of where my passions are leading me cause me to hold tighter to God’s hand. No, I am not the same person this year, which is cause for joy.
We no longer have little ones. Now, we have two adult children and a teenager. The days of the Jesse Advent Tree, cute Advent calendars, and scheduled Advent activities are gone for a while. These are wonderful ways to focus on the season, but this year I am going to invite my children to think about the journey of 2013 and to reflect on it in their own way. Our conversations should be organic (not always easy with a teenager), not programmed. My family has endured enough of my Advent directorship, so I’ll wait for God to lead us into moments where we can be honest with one another about the ways we are changing as we trust in the unchanging nature of God. The sameness of Advent is a reminder of this. One day, everything will be restored and we will no longer live in expectation of that fulfillment. While we wait, we also journey. And a journey is almost never about the destination, but what happens in the in-between, where we live each day of the year.