This space has been quiet for the past few months.
There are many reasons for this: I’ve focused my limited writing time on world-building, stretching my fiction wings; the planet’s most lovable four-month-old gave up sleeping through the night, requesting quality bonding time at hours when reasonable people are not awake; we’ve enjoyed parties and Christmas happenings and a whirlwind trip south to see family and to visit the zoo; convincing two small people to both nap at the same time has become a hit-or-miss endeavor; and so the list goes.
In short, we’ve been living life, and living it well, and while I do miss the conversation and the writing that happen here, I do not regret the time spent on other things.
Yet, while I have not been writing about the small things, not been capturing glimpses of how I’ve been choosing this moment, not been sharing the beautiful and hard and lovely and painful and imperfect kaleidoscope of our days, still, these things – these moments, these small events, these beautiful glimpses – have been happening. Of course they have.
The other day, in a moment of unnecessary guilt, I lamented my lack of planning this year.
“We didn’t do an Advent calendar or a Jesse Tree or a paper chain. We didn’t make Christmas cookies or read Christmas books or watch Christmas movies. We haven’t gone caroling or sought out lights or done scripture readings. I haven’t blogged. I haven’t bought stocking stuffers. I barely got gifts.”
Jonathan looked at me for a moment, his gaze steady, then replied, “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds pretty lame. How about you frame it like this: we bought and decorated a Christmas tree. We attended church services and took Katie to a Christmas concert. We sang Christmas carols up the wazoo. We built a Lego Christmas train together. We took her to get gifts. We’ve told Katie about why we celebrate Christmas.”
He paused, then continued. “She’s two. I don’t think you need to worry about creating a perfect, magical Christmas.”
He’s right, of course. I know he is, and I knew, even before he spoke, that I ought not allow myself to slip into self-blame, that listing all the things we have not done is unproductive at best.
His wording was perfect, however, reminding me that, so often, it’s about perspective.
It’s about how I choose to frame it.
And so, a reframing. A reminder, for you and for me, that Advent – the time when we wait with hopeful expectation for the Son of promise, when we turn our hearts to the ordinary-extraordinary, small and yet amazing-beyond-our-ability-to-grasp-it birth of a baby boy some two thousand years ago – Advent is the lighting of candles and the reading of scripture and the many important traditions observed in the days leading up to December 25, but it is also the small moments of wonder, the glimpses of beauty, the everyday events of our lives seen in a new light.
Advent is the wonder of a child, a gasped “Whoa!” as we drive into our small town one evening early in December and she spots the tall tree there, strung with straight lines of multi-colored lights, for the first time. It is Jonathan and I exchanging grins in response to her awe, and our continued efforts throughout the month to find and point out every Christmas decoration we see.
Advent is old lyrics striking me in new ways, a grace that happens every year. This year, a year that seemed to bear an especially heavy burden of news from around the world, we sing “O Holy Night” the Sunday before Christmas. In His name, all oppression shall cease, my voice proclaims with the rest, and I am amazed at the audacious hope of it, the incredible power of this promise.
Advent is a little girl deciding “Joy to the World” is her favorite Christmas carol. She requests it at every opportunity – while driving in the car, before nap, before bed – and so, by Christmas Eve, Jonathan and I have both sung (all four verses of) it countless times. She sings it herself, too, or rather, proclaims it, standing on the step with a Christmas card as her song sheet, saying that one lyric – Joy to the world – over and over and over again. Joy to the world, indeed.
Advent is the tears that spring to my eyes as we sing those old familiar carols in a Christmas Eve service, tears that come for no logical reason, tears that come despite my questions, despite my doubts, despite my wondering whether the words are true even as they pass between my lips. It is my stepping into the foyer with a fidgety baby just in time to witness a spectacular display in the heavens, the golden orb of the sun slipping beneath the heavy gray clouds that never delivered their promised snow, a watercolor melding of pinks and reds and oranges.
Advent is hot buttered rum, sipped slowly with the one I love after our two girls are sleeping in their beds. It is the conversations and the laughter, the church services and the prayers, the decorations and the smiling faces of those we love looking up at us from brightly-colored cards. It is keeping presents hidden until Christmas Eve because they’re simply too much temptation for a small girl. It is leaving the bedroom long enough to move laundry from the washing machine to the dryer and coming back inside to find a certain toddler on a chair pushed up to the Christmas tree, an ornament in tiny shards on the floor. It is knowing that, despite the lack of activities, despite my lack of planning, it is enough.
Advent is grace, for none of these things are of my own doing. It is joy, and it is peace. It is love and wonder. It is the recognition that, though our world is dark today, there is a light coming. It is a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoicing in the light of a new and glorious morn. It is looking forward to the coming of the King. It is God with us, Emmanuel, a baby in a manger, Jesus’ birthday.
Advent is hope. Grace – undeniable, unbelievable grace – and light and hope.