This Advent was so hard for me. As a matter of fact, I told my family it was the most difficult Advent I’ve ever had. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things that I usually do to make Advent special for our family: I wouldn’t have time to decorate, Christmas cards and letters would not be the huge project they usually are, I wouldn’t bake as many cookies as I like to bake, and we might miss some Jesse Tree readings.
I had no idea.
Because I’m working part-time, I gave over all decorating duties to my 16 year-old daughter, who put the tree up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and did some other light decorating around the house. I put my beautiful Nativity set up about three days before Christmas. There’s definitely dust under most of the decorations, and at least half of what usually goes up around the inside of the house stayed in boxes under the stairs.
I sent Christmas cards out on December 23 to about half of my list. I finalized a Christmas letter three days before that and made the decision to only mail cards out to people who get the letter each year. I left off nearly half of my usual Christmas card list. As someone who has sent Christmas cards to friends and family for the last 3 decades, that was really hard for me to accept.
I baked cookies for my coworkers, I baked a few batches for Nathan’s coworkers, and then a few batches for us. I had just enough cookies to get through Epiphany.
We did two Jesse Tree readings on December 2, because I’d forgotten the night before. I finally told my kids to put the Jesse Tree ornaments on the tree on December 23, and we left the Christmas Day ornament in the box. On Christmas morning, we read the only other reading we’d done the entire month: the Christmas story.
I sat there at Midnight Mass overcome with feelings of failure and sadness about how little I had done during Advent. How I hadn’t even done my daily prayers very well, finished an entire Rosary on most days, and, frankly, felt as if I hadn’t entered into Advent’s season of reflection at all. I felt like work and my other few activities took over my life and left no time for spiritual growth. But, as I wrote last year, Christ comes amidst the mess of our lives, and He (and Christmas) comes anyway. And often there are great blessings and graces that come along with that coming that you’re not expecting.
After doing so little to prepare myself for Christmas (I even worked until 10:15 on Christmas Eve), I found myself overwhelmed with joy at Midnight Mass. I wept with joy that God would give me graces when I so obviously had done nothing to deserve them. When I was so ill-equipped to contemplate the coming of the Savior.
But isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that the true beauty of what God did for us by coming to the world as a little child? By taking our flesh on and living the life of a human being?
We don’t deserve the grace. We don’t deserve the love. Every single day, we each fail to live up to the standards that God has given us to live by. And yet He comes.
He comes hidden, many times, like a little baby born to parents so poor that they couldn’t even get a room in town. We might miss Him, even if there are angels singing about it. Even when Wise Men come bearing gifts fit for a king. But if we stop for a moment – if we pause in our busy lives to look for Him – we will notice that He has come.
He has come to love us.
He has come to forgive us.
He has come to heal us.
Though we can always do more to prepare ourselves for Him – for His coming – if we are seeking Him out, He accepts us and helps us make the changes we need to make.
When we are desperately holding on in the boat, rocked by waves and storms, we only need to call to Him, “Jesus! Help me!”
When we are sinking in the waters, waves high above our heads, we only need to cry out, “Save me, Lord!”
And He will.
It won’t always look like the way we imagined being saved, but sometimes God provides in ways that are unexpected and even unconventional. Sometimes we need less than we think, like a cave filled with farm animals instead of a cozy room. Sometimes we need healing of the soul, like the paralyzed man whose sins were forgiven. And sometimes we have to go through the storm for a while until it’s time for God to calm the storm again.
The traditions I held dear – the ones I thought made Advent so special for the family – were done away with this year. And on Christmas morning, Nathan said to me, “I know you feel like you didn’t do well this Advent, but our home feels warm and ready for Christmas. You did just fine.”
Sometimes we only need to hang on to God and let Him do the heavy lifting.
All text and photos © Christine Johnson
Cross-posted at CatholicMom.com