Advent officially began on Sunday with the suggestion of Hope. However, culturally, getting ready for Christmas starts the Monday after Thanksgiving. That’s when people officially cut loose with Christmas music, Christmas decorations, putting up trees, mailing Christmas cards (no joke friends–I’ve already gotten two. Ask me if I’ve contemplated ours yet), writing blog posts on the meaning of____________(Advent, Mary, Christmas, Joseph, etc), and making suggestions about how to use your money to benefit the world more than your family. Our Sunday School class started their Advent lessons the week before Thanksgiving, so we could get them all in before Christmas.
I wasn’t feeling it this year. In years past, I’ve been as eager as the rest. Since becoming a mom, I’ve internalized what Mary went through and how she must have looked adoringly on Jesus–probably wondering if this really could be the Son of God. I’ve connected with the story and made it more real. I’ve done special advent studies. I’ve avoided the secular Christmas music and tried to stay focused on the “real” meaning of Christmas unashamedly. This year? Well. Sigh.
This year, a Sunday School lesson on Joseph seemed empty. I struggled with the lesson on Mary’s magnificat–surely the point of that was more than to just tell us to mentor others. They’ve felt a stretch (and let me state, for those from my sunday school class who are reading this–y’all have done a fabulous job of teaching—I loved the incorporation of visual art and music into the lessons….I’m just not loving the videos). I don’t need to identify any more with Mary or learn from Joseph how to blindly trust.
I’m such a humbug, I know. But lest you think I’ve written off Christmas and Advent, let me assure you I haven’t with three thoughts.
I. Despite just saying I’m done with the whole humanization and identifying with Mary thing, I’ve read one post that has stuck with me. Micha Boyett, on her blog, Mama Monk, shared a poem she wrote about Mary. Since reading it last Friday, I’ve thought about it over and over. I’ve thought about her escape to see her cousin Elizabeth–probably as an escape from the judgement from those religiously without fault that surrounded her. I think of Elizabeth’s acceptance of Mary–Elizabeth probably being one of the few who could understand since she too had a unexplicable pregnancy. This stanza remains with me:
When I woke to this dirt floor, my mother’s voice
in the next room, issuing me out the door,
I ran my hands down my belly,
knew what is true is crown, not dirt.
II. My family is attempting a Jesse Tree for the second year in a row. At the beginning of Advent last year, I downloaded a free printable from Ann Voskamp with ornaments for a Jesse Tree along with the devotions. I also remembered my friend, Kristen, talking about doing something like this with her boys, so I decided to give it a go. I found Voskamp’s devotions over my kids’ heads and not exactly matching my interpretation of the Bible. I ordered the book, The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Meador Lambert from Amazon as well and paired them together. I think we successfully made it until about the 18th of December faithfully reading a Bible passage, saying a prayer, and hanging an ornament everyday. Then we didn’t for the homestretch.
This year, we are trying again. Before December 1st rolled around, I went through Voskamp’s version and my book version–shaping them into one and even making a little cheat sheet for myself to help me remember which one I was doing what day and with what Bible verse. (That was so much fun! The teacher/curriculum writer in me is still there!). We began our Jesse Tree while Curtis was gone. Sunday night, Curtis was home, and we sat around the table after we had finished eating, reading our Bible story, looking at our ornament and praying. Last year, I did the stories mainly at snack time after school, while Curtis was still at work,. Sunday night, I was nervous, doing the Jesse Tree in front of Curtis. It felt so personal. I felt so exposed. Monday night, it was easier to do it. I am thankful we are doing it while we are both present, instead of just me, especially because it stretches me a little.
III. I found something to read for Advent. Once Curtis returned on Sunday and the kids were asleep, I started my “you’ve been gone for days and now I need to spew words” monologue with Curtis. At one point, I turned on myself, wondering if someday I wouldn’t be so judgmental and critical of things. I wondered someday if the Bible wouldn’t make me uncomfortable–balancing it being written by humans and inspired by God, balancing it being written in a specific time and place and for a specific people that was not me. I wondered if I would feel more at peace. Curtis laughed and said, didn’t people get more judgmental and critical as they got older. Just a few years, I told him, was I hoping to feel more at peace with myself and those trying to teach me who I fought so hard. I felt bad for myself, like I was terrible person, not nearly as devoted and holy as I should be.
Laying in bed, spewing, I closed my mouth for just a moment or so for my brain to catch up. Then I got it. I needed God’s grace. I needed Jesus to rescue me from only occasional attempts at perfection. I haven’t been so aware of my need for grace for myself in years, maybe ever. All of a sudden that’s what Advent became for me. In my waiting for Jesus, I must first realize that I NEED Jesus. How can I sing Come, thou Long Expected Jesus, when his coming changes nothing for me? Advent became more than the current liturgical season we were in and somehow melded a bit with Lent….a time of realizing I need Jesus, a time to realize that all those Old Testament stories of people failing were about me. I was in all of them.
Four months ago, I bought a stack of books at Half Price Books. For the most part, the stack has gone untouched. All the books were either highly recommended by others or I had read other books by the same author. One of the books in my stack was Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Today, I picked up that book and knew I had found the book that would help prepare my heart for Jesus’s coming.