It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The song tells of all kinds of good Advent experiences, like marshmallow toasting, parties for hosting, kids jingle belling and everyone telling you “Be of good cheer.”
Reflecting on the past few weeks I feel like I have blown it. We hosted a birthday party early this month and then scurried around getting outfitted for our trip north for a week. Then we took off and had a winter vacation which included me returning to skiing after a 16-year hiatus and other great memories. All that busyness seemed to derail my very good intentions about Advent for this year.
I was pondering my own loss of focus today. I have held Advent in my heart, but throughout this December, I have felt, somehow, that I was not keeping Christmas well. Truth be told, it hasn’t always just been a feeling. I have let stress eat away at the edges of the season. I have raised my voice at my boys more than once. I have acted in ways that made me feel lousy. I have scrambled to “do” the Advent activities and forgotten to be present in those moments. Those failures haven’t been the totality of our Advent. We shared many sweet traditions and certainly have had fellowship with one another and with Jesus. It is the “failures” that haunt me, though. So, I rolled those over in my mind this morning. Then it dawned on me. I may have this Advent thing all wrong. I started pondering the original Advent — His coming — and what I could learn, what we all could glean, from the original telling of Christmas.
The story of Jesus’ coming starts with a census: people being counted. Sometimes I feel like I don’t count, and Christmas — the outward demands of this season — can make that feeling more intense. But, God starts the tale of His coming by counting. Each person was to return home to be counted. What if we matter like that? What if this Christmas coming of Jesus Himself starts because each one of us counts. He sees us and He comes to each one. We count despite the failures and the fallings. He comes into the midst of broken humanity and says, “You count.”
Having just traveled with my husband and our two boys, I found myself thinking, “I will never again plan a trip in the middle of Advent again.” Our vacation was overall a very lovely time, but it seemed to interrupt Advent acutely and pulled us away from all we had going on and all we normally would have planned instead. As I look back over Luke, Chapter Two, I have this “aha” moment: Advent happened on a journey. Mary and Joseph left the town of their living and traveled to Bethlehem. The Advent of Jesus came in the middle of plans and life as they knew it. Maybe my trip wasn’t such an interruption after all. What is the advent of Jesus into a life and a heart if it isn’t an interruption? He must call us away to get our attention. He must bring us out to unknown places and those are never convenient. Christmas involves an arduous journey. It may not be a trip to go skiing. It more likely is the trip God wants to take with you as you move through hesitations and limitations which block you from His coming more completely into your heart and life. This was Advent then and it remains Advent now — Jesus comes and we must be willing to get up and go as we follow Him in His coming.
Christmas takes us to unexpected places and there often isn’t a place prepared for Him. We find Him birthed in a feeding trough out in a dirty stable. He never came where He was expected, though He came where He was predicted. He continues to come today in those unexpected ways and is never afraid to come into the failures and messes of our lives — even our lives in Advent.
We will be afraid of the Advent of Jesus. It is normal to feel fear at His nearness. We may not admit it, but why else would the Angels have to say to those dear shepherds, “Fear Not.”? The very encounter with the real and living God is enough to shoot us through with fear — but He says, “Fear Not.” He comes into this Advent and He knows our fears. He sees what blocks us from freely coming to worship Him. Sometimes it is that we have decked the halls more than we have decked our hearts. Sometimes it is a feeling that we must do something more to prepare for Him. He sees past all of that. It is His glory that He will shine and that will happen based on His radiance, and despite our lack. So let us go like those shepherds — as we are, from our fields, with no advanced notice, no pomp, no special preparation — let us worship and adore Him here and now. Because Advent comes in the night and invites us to just that: a simple worship of Jesus come low to us. We’ll never be ready enough; We’ll never prepare enough. The invitation is for us as we are to come and worship and then, like those shepherds to go tell everyone about what we have witnessed.
And, like Mary, we can treasure these things in our hearts. All around us is hub-bub and commotion, but inwardly, we can ponder these things — His coming; His coming to us; our inclusion in Him and His life. We can be still when the world is spinning and we can draw near and ponder. It is never to late to stop and ponder. We can still ourselves in what remains of this Advent and we can reflect on Him and His goodness towards us. We can draw near to the memory of this babe and know He came for me and for you. We can pause and we can ponder.
So, if you are like me and you feel like you’ve sometimes missed the boat this Advent, or royally messed up some key opportunities, don’t despair. What is the coming of Jesus if it isn’t the announcement of God come near to sinners? What is Advent if it isn’t the beacon shining a message of grace to the undeserving? What is Christmas if it isn’t extravagant love come down to humanity — counting each of us and inviting us to a simple place to worship and to share? You really can’t blow it this season because this season is a reminder that we already blew it, and even that we will keep on blowing it no matter how hard we wish not to fall. We also will grow and overcome, but don’t be deceived, until we reach heaven, we will never be at a place where we don’t just sometimes blow it. He knows us and He provides for our deficiencies. Advent is the announcement of His loving provision: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” It is news of joy to all people: not that we are prepared for Him, not that we have done what we ought, but that despite our consistently blowing it, He has come to us and for us. He is our Savior, our Messiah and our Lord. When we allow His coming, we (and our failures) are transformed.