I realized there was a problem with my "perfect" Advents of years ago.
My heart’s not ready for Christmas.
I only bought Advent candles last week, and we’ve burned them a couple of times, but mostly the little ones have poked pencils in the wax.
We’ve done the Jesse Tree before, but not this year. My kids have not heard the prefigurements, the anxious Israel waiting, the weaving of the prophet’s preaching, and the rope snaked from the prostitute’s wall.
This is not what I used to be like. In college, I would wrap myself in Advent as if it were a purple brocade shawl. I read morning and evening prayer so I could feel tension build – the tension of the longing world, word by word, prayer by prayer, day by day. December 17 was my favorite day of the year, the day the O Antiphons begin, and I would study each one, paint it in watercolors and hang it on my wall, drinking the richness of the names the Lord called His own – the Wisdom, the Dayspring, the Keystone. I would prepare. I would make my crooked ways straight.
Christmas’ coming was, at those times, as it should be. The watching and waiting lovingly brought forth the birth of the Lord, just as we hoped, just as we waited for. We had emptied; he had filled.
Having been there, and being so far away now, has left me ignorant of what to do.
I watched my children at drop-off this morning, carrying candycanes and joining Santa-hatted classmates in a frosty walk to the school door, and felt their festivity as incongruous as a surfboard in a snowstorm. Why Christmas now? We are miles from ready. All we have prepared are the cheap sugar replicas of the holidays.
I’d failed them — in at least a little way — because their mother, with the bewildered, untouchable heart, has only fed them this year on the trappings of Christmas.
Lord Christ, I said, driving away. We’re not ready, We’re not ready for you to come.
And you know, in saying those words, I realized a problem with my perfect Advents of years ago. It was that by preparing my guts out for the Lord, I thought myself somehow ready, qualified, perhaps even more deserving of his coming. And that wasn’t true.
That’s my silver lining for this Advent. I didn’t do what I should’ve. I didn’t heed John the Baptist’s lonely horn-call from the desert. I didn’t rend my garments. I just tumbled along, slip-shod, to these days before Christmas. Unready.
And what I find is that Christ is going to show up anyway.
I told him I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t deserving; the gap was wide between us. And baby-Him wants to be nuzzled right down into my scattered, undeserving heart nonetheless.
I always used to think the fullness of time in which He came was this harmonious breaking of the time-space continuum when all the Goodness of God’s creation swelled and a beautiful woman gently drew forth her perfect Son. It was this one crystal moment, that night in Bethlehem, when all the ugliness stopped and He came. As it should be.
But that image is a risk, threatening to blot out the stupid folly of the whole story, that reckless, embarassing love that God has for us, that he’s going to come to the unprepared, and let them pick him up, and see him, and know him, and then leave him and fail him again. He did not come because our love for him was guaranteed. Because things were as they should be.
Perhaps for you who have also failed Advent, or you whom Advent has failed (maybe you have turned to prayer, fasting, almsgiving, but find now, looking at the tree glinting in the dark before you, no expectation of joy) – maybe there is a small consolation.
Christmas arrived as beauty in blood, in dirt. It arrived to Joseph trying, amid doubt, to make good on the words of a dream. It arrived to Mary whose one “yes” to the angel must have turned into a thousand whispered yeses as she tried at each moment to give over her fears of the grinding journey, the cold birth chamber, her unknown future.
If you feel great the chasm between you and the approaching Lord, maybe you can be with me falling down in bruised shock that He bound himself in Love across the abyss of eternity for me the dull mess, the girl who questions hope; who couldn’t put aside five minutes a day for him over the last few weeks. And he’s inviting me, with His birth, His ever-beginning, to start again.
Teaming with St. Joseph at Advent’s end