The theme for my Advent Season 2014?
Um. Mostly failure.
We have not read the Advent books, we have not faithfully made our way through our Advent Calendar. We have not opened the book of creative ideas for inspiring the children through this Advent season.
The kids have played too much X-Box and computer. I have lingered on FaceBook longer than I should.
The laundry basket just seems to stay full of clothes that need to be put away. Presents are just beginning to appear under the tree. Not sure everyone is even in what they are receiving.
Tamales made that turned out so-so rather than really great. Frustrating.
These are the things that run through my mind…little failures where I can see what could be. I can see more wonder and hope and joy and peace and love. I can see more order and more patience, rather than haphazardly bumping my way through the season.
More than that though: frustration, anger, impatience, arrogance. Sin. Throughout the season. The reality of my fallenness. The reality of my lack. The reality of the brokenness we sit with as we try to take in the wonder.
The reality of a Mom who slips farther from reality.
The reality of friends truly struggling simply to have the basics, let alone the luxury of Christmas gifts overflowing.
The reality of others struggling with life-consuming illness. Fear. Uncertainty.
The realities that sometimes cloud our hope and faith and love and peace and joy.
I can slip into a deep awareness of my lack, and be overcome by it. My fears and failures demand attention….and then I realize that God is more relentless than my fear or my laziness, or my uncertainty.
God simply will not be overshadowed.
Every year, every where we go, God is proclaimed. Maybe it is covered over with too much fluff, and He is made too safe. Maybe the Gospel is a bit softened by the Ho, Ho, Ho’s. Maybe it is a little confusing…and yet, it is still relentless.
Beginning in November the stores start proclaiming: Christmas is coming.
The songs start playing the decorations go up, all around us. The parties start being planned, the gifts being wished for and listed, the food starts being prepared. The performances being. The familiar choruses begin being sung on Sunday mornings.
Relentless reminders: Emmanuel. God has come.
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7
Every year, no matter the failures or the frustrations, no matter the fears or the angers, no matter the weaknesses on my part…God reminds me He came. I may not make it through the whole Advent season with focused intent and awareness, I may not even make it through with a clean house and presents bought on time. Doesn’t matter.
No matter how your Advent season has progressed, the reminders are all around us. We can soften them with our trivialities, or be overwhelmed by the demands of the season…but the reminders still stand. Relentless. God keeps reminding us He is near. Underlying all the decorations and Ho, Ho, Ho’s…the reality that the God of the Universe came. That is staggering, and even though we may be so familiar we shrug off the reality…He keeps tapping us on the shoulder each Christmas season. There is a deep truth that underlies all the decorations, and it is amazing.
I am so thankful He is relentless.
Buechner sums it up this way, from Whistling in the Dark:
Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”
Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.
From Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, Jill Phillips singing Labor of Love: