I did not know about Advent growing up, but as an adult, it is a season I have come to embrace. Among many Christian people, Advent is generally recognized as the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a time of anticipation, of preparation, of reflection. Some of the traditions associated with Advent, such as an Advent calendar, are not in the Bible, but the prophecies and concepts of preparing for the arrival of Jesus, either as the babe in the manger or in His Second Coming, most certainly are.
Without exception, every year I served as the lead church musician for congregations that observed Advent, there was always a debate whether or not to include the songs of Christmas in worship during Advent. My personal preference generally had less impact on the song selection than those of the head of staff, the music committee, and the parishioners. To me, singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” in the weeks leading up to Christmas feels a bit like sending out a birth announcement before a baby is born. And yes, I know we are talking about an event that took place over 2,000 years ago, so it really isn’t anticipating in that sense, but I still like to pause to contemplate the miracle that we are about to celebrate. I’m not going to launch into a theological discourse about the whys and wherefores of Advent, but I personally cherish this seasonal reminder to be in awe of the miracle.
I have learned that I cannot scurry and contemplate at the same time. In scurry mode, my focus is on the list of things that must be done by a predetermined day or time. The things to do, places to go, and people to see keep me mentally jumping from one chore to the next. To truly ponder something, I have to clear my mind of tasks and focus on more fundamental things, like concepts and ideas. I need to mentally zoom out and take in the majesty of the bigger picture.
What does that have to do with Advent? I observe people rushing from one place to the next while checking the calendar on their phones to see if they can squeeze in one more event. TV shows feature picture perfect people hosting picture perfect parties. Commercials and ads display their finest goods along with the promises of making this Christmas the best and most memorable. It appears we should all be happy, right? Yet, social media is overflowing with people lamenting how stressed they are. We too easily avoid reminders to show kindness, be generous, and have patience with others who might be struggling with issues unknown to us.
That doesn’t sound much like Advent to me.
For the past few months, I have been forced to slam the brakes on my life. While I am waiting for the light to turn green again —or at least a cautious yellow— I am trying to use this time to pause and look around. This season of Advent, more than any other in my life has become a time of reflection. I’m learning a lot about myself. A few realizations make me smile, but others require refinements to keep things in line with my core values and beliefs. Some pings of awareness even require repentance.
Since I last posted, my husband has moved to the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, Illinois. He is doing well there and receiving far better care than I can provide at this time. My next surgery is scheduled for December 22. If weather predictions hold true, we will be in the midst of a blizzard at the exact time I will be in surgery. The way my life has unfolded over the past few months, adding a blizzard into the mix really isn’t all that surprising.
And so I continue to wait. I’m waiting for surgery and for the long recovery that will follow. I’m waiting for the real and metaphorical storms of my recent life to come and just as assuredly move along. And while I’m waiting to once again celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day, I take great joy in knowing I do not have to wait to celebrate His birth according to the calendar. I can celebrate today and everyday. I hope you will join me.
Wow! Your writing is simply beautiful Gail. In the midst of the storm you are pointing us to the calm. Prayers and love!
Thinking of you and John. Please tell him Hello if you talk to him. Sending all my prayers and positive vibes to you and your surgeons for tomorrow.
“Commercials and ads”?! What bothers me the most are the automobile commercials claiming a car is the ultimate gift. Even in California, where to many, their car is their identity, I still see it as basic transportation, not a Christmas gift any more than a vacuum given to the homemaker.
I just had a conversation with John. My brother is not coming for Christmas, the third year in a row. Our roommate is 100 miles away, spending the entire season with his parents, visiting from another country. We haven’t baked a single cookie. I should have bought that fresh wreath on December 1. It really bothered me last weekend when we couldn’t fix the toilet ourselves, but by Monday I had fixed the back yard Christmas lights and restored my 4 day long Christmas playlist. “John, the most important thing is we’re here together.”
I’d say, save the Christmas carols for Midnight Mass, just like nobody is opening Christmas presents in our home until then.
It’s good to hear your “voice”! You are loved.
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