Posts Tagged ‘Advent’
“Well, I’m looking at our Christmas tree, which already looks disheveled, and I’m thinking that’s how I feel.” This text came to me last week from an overworked, overwhelmed mother of 4 young kids whose 15-month-old had HFMD (hand, foot, and mouth disease—ugh!) and whose pastor-husband is extra-busy all month and who has absolutely no family or support system living nearby. It happened to be from my daughter Erika. But, with a few slight changes in detail, I’m thinking it could have come from many of you.
Feeling disheveled? Done in by December? Ricocheting between the joys of the season and a dull aching exhaustion that doesn’t want to admit this but wishes it were already over? You are not alone. I am sure of that. I have heard it from many moms (and dads!). And I see it on weary faces everywhere I go. December is a killer.
And I think it is all the harder for those of us who really love Christmas. I know, because I am one of these. Every year I looked forward with delight to December. The fun. The parties. Choosing just the right gift for each precious one I love. Celebrating Advent. Getting (and sending? Well. Maybe.) cards from long-lost friends. The music. Oh, how I love the music! I even love the baking. Let me correct that: I loved the thought of baking. Until I actually did it. You know, the never-ending cut out Christmas cookies you do with your kids? The kind that spread frosting all over your family and dust the entire kitchen with a fine layer of flour and colored sugar? We did it every year. Some mamas never learn . . .
It all felt great in anticipation. And then I turned the calendar. Yikes! It was already full before I started adding Christmas. That’s when it hit me. There really ought to be a moratorium during December on normal things—you know, everyday life for moms. No annual physicals or dental check-ups or school conferences or PTA meetings or… Come to think of it, why do we have to keep doing laundry and dishes and meals during December? But there is no moratorium. Even though my kids occasionally ate Christmas cookies for dinner, basically normal life just kept on. Even though I wanted to do all those other fun things.
December. Truly my favorite time of the year. And also the most exhausting. And maybe the most dangerous. Dangerous because we can so easily miss the moments in front of us because we are drowning in to-do lists and distracted by disillusionment. We had pictured it so differently. The tree was so magical just a few days—or weeks—ago. And the planning so careful. We wanted to not miss Christmas this year. But sick kids and broken appliances and extra work schedules and complicated family. Those weren’t in our pictures.
And so it is that once again, an Ann Voskamp quote comes to mind:
“In the thin air of Advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: ‘I thought it would be easier.’ And your God comes near: ‘I will provide the way.’ You may not even know who to tell: ‘I thought it would be different.’ And your God draws close: ‘I will provide grace for the gaps.’ You may not even know how to find words for it: ‘I thought I would be . . . more.’ And your God reaches out: ‘I will provide Me.’ (The Greatest Gift, p. 60)
There it is. The Gift. The Grace. GOD. What we truly celebrate in December. He came. He comes. He provided—and provides—grace for the gaps. We know that in our heads. But here is my December prayer for every one of you: May you know this in your hearts. No matter how disheveled you feel. No matter how disappointed you are. No matter what you didn’t get done on your endless lists. Nothing keeps Him from coming. It’s just that He came so quietly that not many noticed. Except what Brennan Manning has called the “shipwrecked at the stable.” I want to be one of those. You too?
“Every hour is grace.” Nobel Peace Prize winner and famous author Elie Wiesel said that. I’m not familiar with the context, but I suspect his definition of grace may be different than mine. Still, I can’t get the quote out of my head. It seems to capture the essence of my life.
For me, as I’ve written elsewhere, this is a season of grace. A season both on my calendar and in my life. I seem to come across grace everywhere.
I recently read a fascinating novel entitled Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger. There’s a lot about grace woven into this piece of fiction. A quote from the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus about “the awful grace of God” provides background music for the whole story.
I’ve also been working on a new retreat topic: Gritty Grace. I’ve been combing through scripture verses on grace—124 of them, it turns out. I’ve also come across some great quotes on grace. I like how Max Lucado put it: “God answers the mess of life with one word: Grace.” One of my favorite Philip Yancey books is What’s So Amazing about Grace? I remembered this recently when I saw the title of his latest book: Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? I can’t wait to read it.
Then I exchanged emails with our son-in-law about his most recent sermon. “This one was harder to prepare, he commented. “It was on grace . . . so maybe it should be hard to understand?” Richie has a way of saying some pretty profound things in short sentences—a gift I’d like to have! But it got me thinking.
Grace is indeed hard to understand. God’s relentless, remarkable, amazing grace. Free, but not cheap. Costly grace. Oh, how it cost Him. Words from an old hymn come to mind: “Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?” I resonate with Anne Lamott’s words: ”I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
Grace: It came with Christmas. The Gospel writer John heralds its coming: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 17)
This is a good season to be thinking about grace. Of course, that’s true of any season. But Advent may help us focus. I’m finally reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas—way behind many of you, I suspect, as it came out in 2013. I’ve just started the book, and grace has found me again. I love how she describes Advent: “This slow unfurling of grace.” (p. 5)
Wishing each of you a “slow unfurling of grace” in the days ahead.
It occurred to me recently that the answer to almost every question in my life right now is: “I don’t know.” With Woody’s recent retirement, we have made plans to move “back home” to New England. We are in the process of purchasing a condo under construction in the Boston area.
But from there on it’s all questions. When will we move? I don’t know. It depends on selling our current home. When will the house sell? I don’t know. What will it be like to move “back home”? Is it even possible to do that? Or was novelist Thomas Wolfe right when he famously proclaimed “You Can’t Go Home Again”? I don’t know. What about that biopsy you’ve been putting off? When will you get that done? I don’t know. It depends on getting a major insurance mess straightened out. How long will that take? I don’t know. And what about the results…? Well, you’re getting the picture.
I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one living in I-don’t-know-ville. Tons of people I know and love are living there, too. Will the never-ending international adoption saga never end? When will we meet these children? WILL we ever meet these children? When will my prodigal come home? WILL he/she come home? Will this court case ever get resolved and justice—and mercy—prevail? Will the doctors ever figure out what’s wrong? Will the money last till the end of the month? To name just a few questions in my prayers for those I love.
It seems to be an Advent season of I-don’t–know. Which brings to mind the fact that there were a lot of I-don’t-know people at that first Christmas. Joseph and Mary must have had plenty of unanswered questions on that road to Bethlehem. And when they had to flee to Egypt. And a thousand other times in the parenting of Jesus. What was God up to in allowing life for His son to look like this? And the shepherds and the wisemen: What does this amazing birth mean? And Simeon and Anna in the years they waited to meet Him: “How long, O Lord, how long?”
But they did know one thing, and it’s the central truth of Christmas: God is now with us! “And they will call Him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in I-don’t-know-ville. It makes me nervous. I am, after all, half-German, firstborn, and off the charts on the Myers Briggs J-scale. I like answers better than questions. But maybe there’s something to be learned here from those first Christmas people. And more importantly, from the God who invaded their world.
Amidst all the unanswered questions of our lives, there is one Big Answer. What we don’t know, He does. What we can’t control, He can. Wherever our future takes us, He is there already. It’s something BIG to celebrate in Advent. A cause for great joy—yes, Joy! Even in this Advent season of I-don’t-know.
I am mesmerized by the lights of Christmas. I guess I always have been.
My mom loved to tell how I got her up in the middle of the night the Christmas I was two, begging to have the Christmas tree turned on. I always loved the tiny white lights that outline the shops in the center of the charming New England town which was home to our family. And when I think of Christmas Eve celebrations over the years, I see the faces around our table in the glow of the individual Swedish candle in front of each place.
Lately God seems to be pursuing me with Light, morning and evening. In beauty, in joyful anticipation, in reflection, in uncertainty, and in grieving (yes, I still miss my mom every day, though December 19 will be the 4-year anniversary of her homegoing).
Early this week, Woody put up the single candles that we light in each window for Advent. Even as he did the harder work of getting cords untwisted and finding outlets and extension cords, I heard Jesus’ voice: “I am the Light of the world . . . You are the light of the world.” This is a yearly ritual.
But then there was the light incident of two mornings ago. It’s very dark in Wisconsin when I get up. I was sitting in my favorite place, having my morning “Come to Jesus” conversation about worry. I need the reminder to start every day: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” (Philippians 4:6 NLT) I looked toward the darkened family room and wished I had thought to turn on the light above our nativity set. Because our conversation wasn’t finished (Jesus’ and mine), I didn’t get up and turn on the light. But then suddenly, there it was—a tiny flicker of a light illuminating the nativity figures. It seemed that for some reason a small electric candle on the mantle had turned itself on.
I got up and turned it off by loosening the bulb, only because these candles are particularly unpredictable and I didn’t want to burn out the battery. Back to my seat. The candle was back on. Oh, that crazy candle! I unscrewed it a little more. I sat down again. And the light was back on! I’m not sure how many times this happened. But I did feel a little like Samuel: how many piercings of the night does it take for God to get my attention? “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5 NLT)
The following morning, the bulb was still out of the candle. But as I was sitting in my familiar place, the sun came up. Cause for celebration in itself, as we don’t see the sun all that much in Wisconsin these days. But there it was—a very distinct beam of sunshine slanting across our mantle to the nativity set. Mostly it was still dark—except for the light slanting its way toward Bethlehem. “A certain slant of light,” as Emily Dickinson put it (albeit in very different context). A reminder, for me, of the True Light that came with Christmas.
Then there was my drive home yesterday in the darkness, much later than I’d expected to be. One of those “routine medical tests” had turned out to be not so routine, and I was facing further testing and uncertainty. Also, a recalibration of “Linda’s agenda” for getting ready to have everyone home for Christmas this year. It was cold and dark as I drove home. I wished we had our window candles on a timer, so I wouldn’t go home to a dark house.
But there they were, five candles radiant in the upstairs bay window. I’m really not sure why they were on—most likely because I had unwittingly flipped a switch in that room and hadn’t noticed the bulbs lit in the daylight. But it really felt like God getting my attention with” the Light of His presence”—again. What did the ancient prophet say? “When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a Light for me.” (Micah 7:8 NKJV)
May God surprise you with His Light this Advent.