This is my last post before Christmas, and so first things first: I think we can all agree that Alternative Advent was hands-down the best Advent series hosted on Busted Halo in the entire year of 2011. Also, it was the only Advent series hosted on Busted Halo in 2011. And yes, my friends and family have to deal with my saying things like that all the time. Their patience is superhuman.
It’s kind of amazing the effect that writing this blog has had on me this holiday season. When my editor told me it would be all about my efforts to live Advent intentionally, I knew that I’d have to actually live Advent intentionally if I wanted to write anything of meaning. And by that I mean that I knew I wouldn’t be able to fake it – that I wouldn’t be able to lie. (That’s what college creative writing prompts are for.)
And I’m happy that I really tried to delve into this assignment. It was really good for me. The Christmas season, after you take away the gifts and the shopping and the music and the cookies (and the Siberian husky you smuggled into your basement so you could try and make it look like a baby polar bear) can feel really empty. That’s because there’s pressure from all sides to skip Advent, to skip the preparation for what’s a hugely meaningful, hope-filled day. When you do that, Christmas stops being a joyful remembrance of one of the most concrete gestures of love this world has ever seen. Instead, it’s just incredibly stressful, because you have no idea how where to even begin with that Siberian husky.
The stress has been non-existent for me this season. Yesterday morning, I decided it would be a good idea for me to start my Christmas shopping. I went to the mall, found a parking space and bought gifts for my parents, my brothers and the family member I drew in the Secret Santa gift exchange we do every year. (If I so much as reveal the gender of the person I drew, my mom will shank me with a candy cane. It’s a holly, jolly Christmas!) But back to my shopping: I finished all of that within 30 minutes. And that’s not because the gifts were randomly grabbed off the Target impulse racks like in 2007 – sorry again, family – or because I didn’t put any thought into what my family wanted. I think it’s probably because I didn’t make my Christmas shopping a huge deal, and I didn’t do that because I think I’m finally starting to understand that Christmas is about more than the gifts. Re-read the last part of the previous line, and tell me if you can recall the last time you heard something that clichéd. But it’s true, and I think that’s a side-effect of being intentional about Advent – I’ve received way more gifts from the reflection I’ve done this Advent season alone than I’m going to receive from my family in the next six Christmases. That’s partly because of the ’07 Impulse Rack Fiasco, but also because I’ve really learned that taking this season seriously will mean more love, joy and peace in my life.
And love, joy and peace are more likely than not already present in our lives. But Advent helps us realize that. Chances are we’re living lives that are full of chaos, stress and uncertainty, at least to some degree, and are probably making it worse by pretending that everybody else has everything all figured out. But maybe there’s no more appropriate time than right now to accept that if anything, this is a season of peace throughout uncertainty, joy in the most unlikely of circumstances, and love that’s unconditional. Our problems won’t be solved when Sunday rolls around (unless you’re one of the few wild, magical reindeer who have managed to elude Santa’s henchmen for yet another year), and the chaos will probably pick back up again pretty soon after that, or maybe even pretty soon after you read this post.
And when that happens, we should recall the words of Walt Whitman: “Peace is always beautiful.” (Sidenote: Now that I’ve quoted Walt Whitman, I expect to be invited to a book club or something. Isn’t that the rule?) Whitman is right – perhaps nothing is more beautiful than realizing we’re in good, strong, loving hands: the hands of each other, the hands of our loved ones, the hands of strangers who care, the hands of God. Let’s revel in that for a few days, and then a few weeks, and then months, years and hopefully for the rest of our lives. And hey, if we forget, there’s a baby coming our way on Sunday who’ll do plenty to remind us that we have every reason to believe that we deserve a life filled with love, joy and peace – and that we’re called to help others have the same kind of life.
In the meantime, good luck figuring out what to do with that Siberian husky in your basement.