We are covered to the elbows in red and green paint, but the festive wrapping paper stretched out to dry on the table before us more than justifies the mess. The toddler points to his distinctively tiny handprints and smiles his satisfaction, as his older brothers start wondering aloud about cocoa with candy cane stirrers. In that mental snapshot, I’m the tired mum, trusting that somehow I was helping my kids to connect the dots between homemade wrapping paper and the God who took on a body so he could save the world.
In the pursuit of Pinterest perfection superimposed upon catechesis, it’s easy to forget that family members will continue to require bath towels and clean underwear in the month of December, and that Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least seventy-five meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating. I wish I had known in those days of hand-crafted ornaments and caroling at the nursing home that Christmas is not a race or a responsibility, that celebration can be as small or as quiet as a story by candlelight, as imperfect and unassuming as a one-eyed gingerbread man.
If you are feeling crowded by Christmas, if you are looking at your calendar and your to-do list and whispering, “How?” it’s never too late to lower your expectations, lighten your load, and limit your activity level.
In “Annunciation,” fifteenth century poet John Donne painted a word picture of the incarnation as “immensity cloistered.” God the Son crowded Himself into Mary’s womb, limited Himself to human proportions, so that you and I can draw grace deep into our lungs, free of the need to perform. Christ’s willingness to hunker down, wizen up, and enter the darkness opens the door to His light and His life being formed in you and me.
Every year, the four candles of Advent, symbols of hope, love, joy, and peace, rescue me by blazing the trail to a spacious celebration:
Hope looks like sitting at my dining room table with my Bible open to the pages between the Testaments — the ones that follow the scalding prophetic words and precede the red letters of grace. I imagine myself into the sandals of the faithful, and pausing in that liminal space, I wonder about waiting and the nature of a sinewy watchfulness that keeps on trusting in the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Love assures me that God’s acceptance is not connected (either positively or negatively) with the number of check marks on my to-do list. Focusing on God’s unconditional love, shown by His gift of the Baby in the manger, schools me in the authentic gospel of giving in which the power and presence of God burst through all the shallow frippery and hoopla of a holiday run amuck.
If, as C.S. Lewis has said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven,” it behooves us to take it more seriously here on planet Earth. Complaining and comparing are joy slayers, but turning the spotlight on others with tiny acts of service and encouragement can be a two-way gift that brightens the recipient’s celebration and recalibrates the giver’s heart toward joy.
Peace can easily give way to panic by the fourth Sunday of Advent, especially if stress leads to blowing our budget, losing our temper, and resorting to sugar-fueled all-nighters of wrapping gifts and addressing Christmas cards. This is the moment for flexibility: modifying or eliminating whatever won’t work, hanging on to those realistic expectations set up in the first week of December, and sticking close to the story that featured a manger, a fairly awkward set of circumstances, and all the messiness and chaos that surround a new birth.
When Christmas is severed from Truth, it lands like a burden — just one more thing in the multitude of things that needs to be checked off my list. But if I stay present to the wonder of Word made flesh, of Christ crowded into time and space and a feed box, God’s present-day proclamation lands in words that were given to lift loads and create space as they shimmered from angel lips and star song:
“Let every heart prepare him room.”
Christ’s willingness to hunker down, wizen up, and enter the darkness opens the door to His light and His life being formed in you and me. -@MicheleDMorin: Click To Tweet