It’s almost the third Sunday in Advent and midway through the season. We’re still lighting the candles every Sunday, reading the Bible stories that lead up to the birth of Christ, maybe listening to Advent carols along with YouTube or Zoom church services.
Episcopalians and others have been busily shopping online with the hope that gifts will arrive on time, while shielding themselves from the virus that has plagued us for months. Kitchens are beginning to fill the air with scents of sugar cookies, pies, different kinds of bread, and all sorts of goodies. Probably every flat surface in the house sports candles, wreaths, swags, elves, or other holiday decorations, or perhaps is covered with boxes, wrapping paper, ribbon, bows, and other gift-covering materials. Christmas is coming soon. Everything has to be as perfect as an imperfect holiday can be, given our need for masks, social distancing, and isolation this year.
Usually most people are searching for perfection, whether it is the perfect car, house, outfit, shoes, gift, or presentation of self or surroundings. The table has to look just so. Each impeccably-chosen gift wrapped exquisitely. The tree must be symmetrical to a fault and faultlessly decorated with nicely spaced ornaments, enough lights but not too few or too many, and ribbons and garlands strategically placed to bring the whole together. Heaven forbid that there should be a hole in the tree’s foliage left uncovered by an ornament or light.
I confess that my tree has been slow in being decorated this year. It sat in its scuffed box for several days before I could muster the energy to put it together on the bachelor’s chest in front of the window. It took even longer to add ornaments, a job I’ve only partially completed over many days. Almost from the beginning, I noticed that I could look at the tree when I sat at my desk and see a hole straight through to the window frame. Because it is an artificial tree, I can bend the branches in an attempt to cover such things. This year I didn’t have the strength or the enthusiasm to move the chest to get to the gaping part to fix it. I couldn’t find an ornament to cover it sufficiently, and so I still have a hole. It’s an imperfection that, even though I realize the tree is just for me and that I love it for the colored lights and white crystal ornaments, it is still not the tree I would typically have for Christmas.
That tree has made me think a lot over the past two weeks about imperfection and how I’ve come to accept it in one sense. Granted, the pandemic has had a lot to do with it. The continuing hijinks of the current administration have far from reassuring me that come January 21, life will hopefully start to change for the better. I think I’ve just lost that lovin’ feeling, to quote the old song.
During Advent, we often focus on Mary, the expectant mother of the Messiah. She must have been a perfect candidate—pure in body, soul, spirit, and mind, obedient, knowing her place in the household and society, and so on. We concentrate on her song of humble acceptance, “Let it be according to Your will.” We are encouraged to be like Mary, accepting whatever it is that God wants from us, and we may expect to do whatever it is perfectly. How could we do less? How could we present a less-than-perfect gift to God, who has done so much for us?
Thinking of the Bible’s characters, most are flawed people contributing whatever their gift might be. Noah, Abraham, Abraham’s sons and daughters-in-law, Saul, David, Solomon, many of the prophets, the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and more were imperfect people acting in imperfect ways which seemed best to them at the time, even if unaware of what the bigger picture was. Those imperfections helped us understand that they were people like us and that even Jesus was a human, although more spiritually guided and obedient than we are.
Leonard Cohen wrote a song some years ago that said in part:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. *
This portion of the complete poem brings us a metaphor that reminds us that perfection isn’t everything. The story of the cracked water pot that the gardener faithfully fills every day and, in so doing, waters one side of the path so that flowers might grow and bloom is another reminder. Some who practice various crafts leave tiny imperfections in their works to remind admirers that nothing made by humans is perfect.
For the rest of Advent, I’m going to focus on recognizing the importance of seeing imperfections not as blemishes to be covered up but as places where the light shines in. Of all the gifts I could give God, the one God seems to want most is my putting my imperfect self in God’s hands. Like the hole in my tree’s branches, it lets in the light of the world outside, not just colored electric ones that I plug in when it gets dark. It’s a reminder that even if Mary had some imperfections that we don’t hear about, but that doesn’t make her gift any less valuable or perfect. It’s the offering of self that is the most wanted gift of the season.
Have a blessed Rose Sunday.
Image: Circle South Sea Pearls, Author: Auadtbk, 2009. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats, who provide entertainment and aesthetics, even when asleep.