As a child at Christmastime, I was only aware of the excitement– the decorations, the cookies, the presents waiting under the tree. But as adults, we bear the weight of awareness. We see the brokenness and pain and conflict of individuals and families and nations that do not pause for the “most wonderful time of the year.” Some years we feel less like calling, “Merry Christmas!” and more like crying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
And so we enter the season of Advent. A season of expectant waiting, one in which we join with the groaning of a creation longing to be restored. Each week the wreath on our table is lit by one more candle. Hope, peace, joy, love. Each week we say a new prayer, something simple and childish and so fitting.
Jesus, you are light even in the darkest places...
Jesus you are peace even when there is hatred...
Jesus, you are joy even in the saddest times...
This year we haven't done many Christmas activities. We put up our decorations and strung all the lights, but we haven't even made a single Christmas cookie. Generally I enjoy baking, but this year cookie making means children fighting over turns and a baby crying at my feet, and that sounds more stressful than fun.
We made a faux gingerbread house (from a cardboard box). The girls enjoyed meticulously covering it with wafers and candy, while Nadia scavenged for candy wrappers on the floor. We planned a student Christmas party which was postponed due to sickness. I have searched Taobao for Christmas presents. We read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
But this year doesn't find us particularly jolly. Last week both Kevin and our teammate lost grandparents, and they mourn far from family and home. Our family has been dealing with colds and throwing up and not sleeping. I feel the weighed down by a hard, tiring year. Too many hormones, too much screaming, not enough sleep. Nearly every one of the girls' friends here have been sick this past week. We have friends who have lost family, who are in the hospital, who are worried about children or spouses or parents.
There is no place for weariness or grief in our idea of holly, jolly Christmas. But this is what advent is all about. We don't have to make joy; we just wait for it. We accept this dark night. We hold tenuously to hope, we breathe in peace, we watch for joy, like the dawning of the morning.
Emmanuel, God is with us. With us in the grief, the sickness, the darkness. This is Christmas:
Light rising in the darkness,
Hope springing from weary despair –
A world resigned is surprised by joy.
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.