We are midway through the season of Advent. How is it going for you? For my part, I have to admit to a guilty secret. In the past couple of days I have been sneakily listening to Christmas carols.
This wasn’t something I meant to have happen. I had planned that, honoring the Advent season, I would find quiet time for reflection and would try to live in the moment. I would studiously ignore the canned music in supermarkets and malls and hurry by the Christmas displays without looking. I would save touring town to see the funky and beautiful lights and the house decorations synched to music until after the 25th. I would dutifully try to stay present in hope and expectation until the proper night for the baby’s birth.
But the other day, in my imagination, I looked in the manger in the wintry stable in Bethlehem and found a baby already there. He was small and wrinkled in that peculiar way of newborns, tiny fists clenched in sleep. The shepherds and angels hadn’t found him yet, but his mother was right there, making sure he was warm – and in love with him in a way she never could have anticipated. So was Joseph, blinking like an owl, unsure whether to feel joy and pride or suspicion and fear – or all of those things together.
“We don’t get to spend enough time in Christmas,” I muttered defensively as I felt my own heart swell. And so I have been listening to Christmas carols.
This out of season arrival of joy somehow makes up for the times I have waited patiently through Advent only to find the Christmas moment flat and empty. In those years I felt no new life, no coming of the Messiah, only another day in another long week, this one full of wrapping paper needing to be recycled and lots of dishes needing to be washed.
And then there were the years when horrible things happened at Christmas – heart rending family fights, losses, terrible disappointments. Those were moments when Christmas carols seemed like a horrible mockery.
It’s silly to try to orchestrate a birth. They come early or late or not at all. None of this is our fault; it’s just how things are. We can’t plan it.
We can make room for it, though. We can lay warm blankets in the manger, figure out a way to bring in food and water, shoo away the cows. Advent is about the painful opening of our hearts, centimeter by centimeter, in the face of having been disappointed so many times before.
It’s about both remembering and anticipating the shocking wonder of God. Because, whether or not we feel it,
and God will be
entering history just to find us.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations' creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado