‘Tis the season! No, not Christmas. That doesn’t actually START until December 24. (The Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve day from the Feast of the Nativity on December 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.) Not that that fact ought to keep us from decking our halls! We could certainly all use a little extra cheer this year!
But it’s Advent season. A season of deep remembering, of even deeper longing, and of preparation. In the season of Advent we prepare our hearts to receive Jesus, to receive God as God comes to us–not in power and majesty and glory–but in vulnerability, in the fragility of our lives, in the beautiful, brittle treasures with which we have been unwittingly blessed. We long to receive all that God has prepared for us by remembering that God is God-with-us. Not some aloof power up beyond the skies, but closer to us and our own hearts, and always desperate to make us know that we are loved.
And so we prepare our hearts with certain exercises or disciplines. And, of course, everyone’s favorite discipline is opening one little cut-out cardboard door (or two or eight) to reveal the little morsel of chocolate (or LEGOs or whiskey) behind each one. I’m talking about our Christmas calendars, of course! These calendars can keep up our spirits as we count the days toward Christmas. Opening our little doors gives us one little moment of joy in the midst of increasingly stirred-up children, mounting holiday pressures, gift-buying, decorating, baking, cooking, and holiday planning.
But sometimes, maybe just sometimes, maybe our habit of these small indulgences aren’t really what we need. Maybe our hearts feel empty with loss during this season. Maybe what we really need is something that is a bit more hopeful.
What might a better sort of Advent calendar look like? I’m not suggesting we get rid of the chocolate-filled kind. But what if we add to it something else? What if for the days leading up to Christmas–we could even start on December 1st–we wrote down one name, or one word, or one phrase? Some or someone in our lives that is just good. Something or someone in our lives that means more to us than all the tinsel and the worry. Something or someone that makes the long days feel shorter, the dark days a little less bleak, and the cold days a little warmer. What if we count our blessings to number our days until Jesus comes?
Especially in this time of isolation, this long incubation during the pandemic (which has sort of been like one VERY LONG Advent), what if we were to mark our days with our blessings, and what if we go one step further and write down those things that are good that after this time of pandemic we don’t want to lose?
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is the Advent hymn par excellence. And in the first verse it remembers the situation of the world and of Israel, longing for release from their Babylonian captivity, longing for the presence of God among them: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile, until the Son of God appear.”
What were the things Israel learned in Babylon that should have renewed its life when it went back to Jerusalem? What are the things we have learned during this pandemic that should renew our lives when we have a vaccine or whenever we are back together? Perhaps we can write them down, one per day, and seal them up in an envelope, and then open them up in a year or two and see if we have remembered to hold on to what is enduring.
In the meantime, this sort of exercise might help us to find our voices and to realize the deep truth in the way that hymn verse ends: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”