I know this will surprise regular readers (even reluctant ones, you know who you are), but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I was wrong about something I’ve been rather militant about. And it’s funny to me that I didn’t realize it was wrong until it sort of hurt me.
For the last several years, I have unswervingly observed a religious season known as Advent. I’ve huffed and sighed at the first Christmas commercials on TV, violently changed the radio station away from 105.7, never put a tree up until the first Sunday of Advent and just flat-out pretended like I didn’t know how the Christmas story would end. During Advent, Mary is pregnant. There isn’t a baby yet, so stop singing about one!
I told myself this was a spiritual discipline and that it would make me better. After growing up in a faith tradition that doesn’t recognize Christmas in any religious context, I was determined to do Advent well.
I wrote our parish Advent pageant every year. I would direct it and choose costumes and design a set and recruit other adults to help. I would teach our adults and our kids about God and waiting and expectation, learn difficult music to sing with the choir. I would work full time and parent my kids and clean my house and worry about money.
Little by little, year after year, I would ring in the New Year and feel just the tiniest bit sadder. I would wonder where the weeks of Advent, the magic of Christmas and the meaning in a New Year had gone. It didn’t occur to me that I had taken that meaning and magic from myself.
I share this with you now to suggest that sometimes we’re wrong, and sometimes, in that wrong-ness, we are dealing with a lot of self-inflicted pain.
I tried to pay attention this year, as the calendar rolled into November. I found that I was only mildly annoyed by the Christmas commercials and then looking forward to my favorite one (the Hershey kisses bells). I found that I still don’t want to listen to Christmas music, but that my heart has eased in its snobbery concerning those who do want to. And my tree is going up this weekend.
I’ve figured out that we’re all just trying to get through something, be that a death, divorce, addiction or bankruptcy. I think we’re all just doing our best, we’re all trying to do something right; even when that hurts us, even when we fail.
This year, I handed off the pageant to another gifted person. I’m still learning difficult music, but there’s so much joy in the singing that I’ll stick with it. I’m trying to be intentional about how and where I spend my time and my heart, trying to give both to the people who need me the most.
I am determined, utterly determined, to meet you all where you are this holiday season. If your house is covered in last year’s Christmas lights, well, thank you for lighting up the neighborhood. If you can’t stop listening to “Feliz Navidad,” that’s cool because I’ve picked up some Spanish and can sing along. I want to admire your Christmas tree whether you are in a season of expectant waiting or not.
I am still going to wait, just not for the same things.
I am going to wait on the tears that will spring to my eyes as we sing “Silent Night” at our midnight service, to feel the cold air on my face as I drive home on Christmas Eve in the dark. I am going to wait for the joy that comes after sorrow, the light that breaks after the darkest nights.
The world and living offer enough pain and disappointment – I surely don’t need to heap more upon my head, or yours, for mentioning the birth of Jesus before the last service ends on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Mostly, I hope to rediscover the joy of Christmas, thinking maybe it will fill me up and spill out and over, into the long dark months of winter.
Imagine the world we could make if we all just tried our hardest, and then believed it of each other. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, no matter who you are, who you love, or whether or not you believe we belong to each other. I hope you let go of the things that hold you back or tell you that you aren’t enough or that you don’t matter. Because you are enough and you do matter. Some of those things were never meant for us to carry; they’re just too heavy.
Sometimes the things I think will make me better only make me worse. Sometimes the things I think will help me only hurt me, so I’m going to put them down. I hope you let go of some of those things, too. I hope you set them down in the snow on the side of the road (next time we get some snow anyway) and walk away, whistling a merry little tune under your breath, freer than you’ve felt in a long time.