We are covered to the elbows in red and green paint, but the festive wrapping paper stretched out to dry on the table before us more than justifies the mess. The toddler points to his distinctively tiny handprints and smiles his satisfaction, as his older brothers start wondering aloud about cocoa with candy cane stirrers. In that mental snapshot, I’m the tired mum, trusting that somehow I was helping my kids to connect the dots between homemade wrapping paper and the God who took on a body so he could save the world.
In the pursuit of Pinterest perfection superimposed upon catechesis, it’s easy to forget that family members will continue to require bath towels and clean underwear in the month of December, and that Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least seventy-five meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating. I wish I had known in those days of hand-crafted ornaments and caroling at the nursing home that Christmas is not a race or a responsibility, that celebration can be as small or as quiet as a story by candlelight, as imperfect and unassuming as a one-eyed gingerbread man.
If you are feeling crowded by Christmas, if you are looking at your calendar and your to-do list and whispering, “How?” it’s never too late to lower your expectations, lighten your load, and limit your activity level.
In “Annunciation,” fifteenth-century poet John Donne painted a word picture of the incarnation as “immensity cloistered.” God the Son crowded Himself into Mary’s womb, limited Himself to human proportions, so you and I can draw grace deep into our lungs, free of the need to perform. Christ’s willingness to hunker down, wizen up, and enter the darkness opens the door to His light and His life being formed in you and me.
15th-century poet John Donne portrayed the incarnation as “immensity cloistered.” God crowded Himself into Mary’s womb, limited Himself to human proportions. You and I can draw grace deep into our lungs, free of the need to perform.Tweet
Every year, the four candles of Advent, symbols of hope, love, joy, and peace, rescue me by blazing the trail to a spacious celebration:
Let Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace Make Room
Hope looks like sitting at my dining room table with my Bible open to the pages between the Testaments — the ones that follow the scalding prophetic words and precede the red letters of grace. I imagine myself into the sandals of the faithful, and pausing in that liminal space, I wonder about waiting and the nature of a sinewy watchfulness that keeps on trusting in the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Love assures me that God’s acceptance is not connected (either positively or negatively) with the number of check marks on my to-do list. Focusing on God’s unconditional love, shown by His gift of the Baby in the manger, schools me in the authentic gospel of giving in which the power and presence of God burst through all the shallow frippery and hoopla of a holiday run amuck.
If, as C.S. Lewis has said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven,” it behooves us to take it more seriously here on planet Earth. Complaining and comparing are joy slayers, but turning the spotlight on others with tiny acts of service and encouragement can be a two-way gift that brightens the recipient’s celebration and recalibrates the giver’s heart toward joy.
Peace can easily give way to panic by the fourth Sunday of Advent, especially if stress leads to blowing our budget, losing our temper, and resorting to sugar-fueled all-nighters of wrapping gifts and addressing Christmas cards. This is the moment for flexibility: modifying or eliminating whatever won’t work, hanging on to those realistic expectations set up in the first week of December, and sticking close to the story that featured a manger, a fairly awkward set of circumstances, and all the messiness and chaos that surround a new birth.
When Christmas is severed from Truth, it lands like a burden — just one more thing in the multitude of things that needs to be checked off my list. But if I stay present to the wonder of Word made flesh, of Christ crowded into time and space and a feed box, God’s present-day proclamation lands in words that were given to lift loads and create space as they shimmered from angel lips and star song:
“Let every heart prepare him room.”
Christ’s willingness to hunker down, wizen up, and enter the darkness opens the door to His light and His life being formed in you and me.Tweet
Now, Let’s Talk Books…
The Lost Girls of Willowbrook fails to offer the hope Christ came to bring, but hope does shine through in the form of friendship and family ties. Sage Winter is desperate to find her twin sister but had no idea that her search would take her into the dark and hellish wards of Willowbrook State School. Ellen Marie Wiseman escorts her readers on a tour of the day-after-day hopelessness of life within those walls.
Willowbrook is based on an actual institution on Staten Island, New York. It remained in operation until 1987, and an estimated 400 patients per year died there from the dangerous and deadly conditions. I might have expected this sort of horror if the book had been set in Dickensian England or even during Civil War era U.S.A., but Sage ventures into Willowbrook in the 1970’s–during my lifetime!
Readers sensitive to harsh language or images of cruelty should give this one a pass. However, I found that, like Sage, the glaring spotlight on the suffering of others impacted my priorities and heightened my awareness of the vulnerability attached to mental illness.
Holding You in the Light,
The Lost Girls of Willowbrook: Haunting, disturbing, and yet hope eventually does shine through in the form of friendship and family ties. @EllenMarieWiseTweet
Take Action Now to Resist Chaos in Your Advent Celebration!
This is your invitation to join me and my newsletter subscribers in memorizing and meditating on Isaiah 9:6 during the Advent season. Obviously, all you really need in order to do this is a Bible and the willingness to put in the work. However, if you’re interested in some help and encouragement, I’ve created a PDF for you that includes printable resources:
- The text of Isaiah 9:6 as pictured above
- First letters of the verse to push you along in your memory work (Have you ever tried this method? It really helps me!) The first letter of each word triggers your brain to say the right word without actually giving you the word in print.
- A Meditation Guide for each name of Jesus: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Each little card invites you to think about the Name in terms of who Jesus promises to be for you and what he wants to do in your life.
If this sounds helpful to you, get your copy by simply entering your email and then clicking on the button below…
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Many thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Publishing Corp. for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.