Confession: I had a dream last night where I all of a sudden realized that it was December 27. And I had missed it. I had missed Christmas. In my rush of decorating and wrapping and parties and church services and endless rounds of Christmas traditions with the kids, I had missed Christmas itself. There I was, two days later. And I didn’t remember a single blessed thing. All that work, but no memories. All that effort for my loved ones, but no opportunity to share the love.
Luckily, it was just a dream. And luckily too, I must add, I don’t actually feel that way about Christmas this year. But as the years go by and my kids get older, I see the temptation to get swept up in the tidal wave of Christmas. To drown in sprinkles and tinsel and harried trips to the mall. How, in the midst of all of these wonderful things, can we carve out time and space to appreciate the most essential part?
The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit.” It is designed to be a time of waiting. A time when we reflect back on the long centuries the Israelites waited in longing for their Savior to come. It is a time when we reflect upon our need for forgiveness, for redemption, for the new start that is given to us in Christ. It’s also a time of invitation, for us to lean in to the longing for the Second Coming. For the time when “everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.” (quoting Timothy Keller, who is quoting J.R.R. Tolkien)
Advent is a time designed to remind us of our emptiness, of our longing. And just like the humans we are, it has instead been turned into a time of fullness. Of gluttony. A period of days and nights crammed to the brim with parties, and cookies, and chocolate advent calendars, and Christmas cards and wrapping gifts. Which, is absolutely lovely. It is full of feels, full of friends, full of opportunities to say the thing that needs to be said. Which is a gift that isn’t given very often in our lives.
But, at the same time, it can also be a distraction. Pulling our thoughts and hearts away from the sense of longing, for the craving for a Savior. For the simple beauty of the Christmas story and the great Redemption story that follows.
So what does one do? It’s not like we can postpone all of our Christmas festivities until after Christmas Day. It seems cruel to deprive are children of the joyful merry -go-round that is Christmas in America.
I’m not saying we sit out Christmas, pull ourselves up in our houses and sackcloth and ashes and ponder our need for salvation.
But perhaps, we should pair it back a bit.
Perhaps we can be intentional about what we say yes and no to. Especially at this time of year. Take time to sit in front of the Christmas tree. Just sit. Take it in – the light and the smell, and the ornaments that are precious keepsakes. There’s only one time a year that for no apparent reason we chop down a perfectly healthy tree and haul it inside our house. You paid good money for that tree. Enjoy it. And while you do, stop and reflect on how Christmas intersects with your life this year. Where you need space and time and margin. Where you need redemption and unfailing love, a fresh start. What blessings you are grateful for and what things you need to mourn.
This year I chose a non–advent book for my advent devotional. Present over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. The title suggests the theme, and for me it has been a gift. A daily reminder to soak it in. To be present and cease trying to be perfect. To stop the madness and savor the people in my life.
If you feel like the Christmas season is a truck that has run you over and is now dragging you behind it, just stop. There are still two weeks left. What do you need to do, or not do, to allow yourself to encounter the living God this Christmas season?
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…