Advent is not for the complacent or the entitled.
Advent - the four weeks before Christmas - is for those who long for light, for more joy, hope and peace in their lives and for those who anticipate such gifts wrapped in the warm embrace of love.
During this season of Advent the lives of friends and family have recalled me to a greater honouring of the importance of struggle and uncertainty for this Christmas season.
- My wife’s challenge of caring for elderly parents in another province;
- The spiritual and physical challenge of my friend’s triple-bypass heart surgery, the long path ahead for recovery and the gift of the pre-surgery realization that “I’d like to stick around for a few more years.”
- The incredible weight that depression puts on the heart, spirit and body. The effort required to get off the couch recalls images of my own mother.
- The logistical nightmare of our son-in-law trying to fulfil a critical work project, work extra hours for Christmas money and ferry children to all the extra events of the season.
- The anxiety and excitement of my son as he awaits his time in court December 20th. Will he be released or returned to a cell in a different facility?
- My brother’s growing anxiety as he obsesses over what he will get for Christmas. “Surprise” is a dirty word for one with an obsessive compulsive disorder.
- The spiritual and emotional struggle of my friend to “be there for the family” during this first Christmas season since the death of her husband.
This list is just the top of the scroll. And I feel both sobered and blessed to be part of such lives.
The hope contained in the Christmas story shines most brightly in those moments when we simply do not know what we are going to do and an uncertain future hovers. When the heart cries, “How can I do this one more day?”, “Where will I get the strength for this next step?”, “Will this hole in my soul ever be filled?” the vibrancy of the star of Christmas on a dark night makes sense. The God of the galaxies does something unexpected through unlikely actors that makes the improbable possible.
While I am very much in favour of the joyous sound of children ripping open Christmas presents and the abundance of feasts, the Christmas promise is about something much more radical, lives transformed, systems smelted so they are marked by justice and the banishment of hunger, cold, wet nights and the knife-edged sense of not belonging.
Christmas is a big deal.