Last night, during the final doorknob question (the most important topics come up at that last moment before the last goodnight is said, when your hand is on the doorknob… it is when you think you have checked all the boxes, and everyone is loved and secure and waters have been filled and books stacked next to the pillows, which have been fluffed, when somebody will say, in a casual voice, “So, about the Nephalim…”), a Quail pensively queried, “What made us come up with all these Advent traditions?”
Advent has arrived. It is my favorite time of the year (and I have many, so for anything to merit the title “favorite and best” should give you some idea of the scope of my glee). Most of us spend years of our adult and married life piggybacking off the traditions of our parents. We borrow, rightly, and I have observed that many people never have to come up with their own separate traditions; they go back to mom and dad’s house and that is all well and good.
Unless you can’t.
When the Quail were just wee chicklets, they were regularly in the hospital. Like, monthly. The fleeting colds of other toddlers led to days of IV fluids and breathing treatments for mine, and as a result, we lived an extremely isolated life. All the neurotic signage and obsessive hand sanitizing and masking of Covid? Yeah. We did it before it was cool. And that is another conversation for another day, but it required us to be creative and innovative about holidays if we wanted to celebrate them at all (spoiler alert: we wanted to).
By the end of this month, you will likely be sick to death of hearing about our Advent traditions, so I am not going to even attempt to lay them all out for you here. It isn’t the point anyway. Everything we do lands under a heading, a phrase, that we whisper to one another in an excited hush in the glow of Christmas lights, that we shout first thing in the morning when we wake up, that we hold tightly in our minds and our hearts:
He is coming, He is coming, He is coming…
There is a stillness that deepens for me each and every Advent. I don’t eschew bustle. I purposefully do my shopping at the last minute so that I can experience all the lights and sounds and people and craziness — I love it. But what God did in taking away all the normal holiday traditions was replace them with longing to find myself at His manger, to be still in the presence of His glory. It peeled away the mindless busyness, the things we did without knowing why, and brought me face to face with my own need. Even though this is truly a season of comfort and joy, of light and laughter, it is also a season rife with conflict and death. It always has been.
You cannot Hallmark movie your way out of seeing the war in the heavens as the seed of man came on a serpent crushing mission (that nothing would keep Him from accomplishing), the death that came to Mary as she chose to bear the Life of the world (death of reputation, death to her figure and her pride and her plan for herself — because life would come out of death), the death of countless toddlers at the hands of a jealous tyrant making a desperate attempt to thwart His Creator and to stop the King from ascending to His rightful throne (he failed. You cannot stop this King from saving His people, from dethroning the prince of darkness and ushering in a kingdom of Light. News flash: you can’t stop this King, either. He is going to accomplish His good plan in your life. He is using your hard things, your lonely aches, your disappointments and trials and despairs. And praise God that He is).
And so as we ease into this beautiful season, humble yourself before this King. Join the shepherds and be awestruck. Sing Mary’s song amidst the darkness and gloom. Kneel in the dirt beside the manger. See Jesus. See Him amidst your current afflictions, watch for Him, with a heart bent on worship.
“We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand… And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark are really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
He is coming, He is coming, He is coming…