Faith

On Waiting and Advent

December 24, 2014

I’ve thought that Christmas is tomorrow for the past three days.

But I’ve double-checked and today is, in fact, the day before Christmas.

It’s Christmas Eve!!

I’m writing to you in flip-flops and a tank top because it’s 71 degrees in San Diego. I’ve wrapped presents today with windows open while Bing Crosby sings “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” and convertibles drive by open-faced to the sky.

This Christmas season has looked a little different. We didn’t hang any Christmas decorations because they all appeared to be lethal choking hazards for a crawling baby, and also because we forgot to get them out of storage until yesterday. Our stockings are currently hanging over the couch and a box of garland sits dormant in a box against the wall. Do the decorations still count if they remain in a box?

This year has looked different also because it is the first year Mike and I have participated in Advent together. For the past four weeks we have read daily devotionals that all centered on the theme of waiting. Advent means “coming” or “visit,” so the season remembers both advents of Christ: the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come. The whole point of Advent is to make room in your heart and mind for the miraculous occasion of Christmas. It is a time of preparation, a time of reflection.

Advent has been particularly useful this year and annoyingly applicable. We are engaging with a spiritual waiting season while living in a literal one, anticipating both military orders and the birth of Christ at the same time. Often, we must confess a longing for one more than the other and it’s not for a King. It’s for control.

With all the unknowns lurking in our future, Mike and I really wanted to make extra room in our hearts and minds for the King this Christmas. We have so many questions and didn’t want to miss any answers in case they were spoken with a whisper instead of a foghorn

So during Advent we fasted alcohol and television.

And it was terrible.

By “terrible” I mean really hard, but really good; a deep burn that results in improvement by way of suffering. Television was hard, but it was the fasting of alcohol, specifically wine, that was really challenging around the holidays.

The greatest temptation to have a glass of wine wasn’t even at Christmas parties or social gatherings. It was evenings at my very own house.

You see I have the great, disorienting privilege of working from home. Weekdays often seem like mirror images of one another, a collection of diaper changes and computer screens and laundry cycles that function on an endless loop within a 10ft perimeter of my living room. Working from home is awesome, but it also presents the challenge of compartmentalizing different roles and responsibilities of my life. Since there is no separation, no divide between the domestic and professional, it often seems as though I should be productive on all fronts concurrently forever.

This is what makes me lose track of what day it is.

(Just checked. Still Christmas Eve.)

When there is no ending to the workday, no clocking out or seat belted commute from office to home; it feels like the treadmill keeps perpetually running in the background, always advertising unfinished tasks. So when I became a work-from-home-mom I began longing for tokens of closure, small habits that would indicate an exit of one role and entrance into another.

I don’t know when it began, since we’ve already established that I am not a good recorder of time, but a couple months ago around 5:00 each evening I would turn on the TV and pour a glass of wine. It wasn’t wild or crazy or reckless. This was my signal to my brain that the day was winding down. I would carry around a half-full wine glass while picking up toys and (occasionally) making dinner. It was, by all accounts, a non-issue, an effectual way to give my workday a sunset.

But when Mike and I started talking about Advent and how we could make more space for focused reflection, I realized that it would be a positive exercise to forgo my evening wine for a few weeks, not because it was an inherent problem, but because easy habits can inadvertently become big needs, and I wanted to make sure my biggest needs were channeled towards the most essential one: the King who was coming on Christmas.

So we fasted and it was rapturously harder for me than it was for Mike. The Marine has made a career of self-discipline, of saying yes and no with a definitive edge. He is all muscle and determination and has a reason for everything. Meanwhile, I collect distractions with a tinge of excitement and shrug of inevitability and assume that stewarding individual tasks isn’t as significant as accomplishing them in combination.

Advent this year showed me all the ways I was filling up a deep well of longing with a truckload of tiny distractions.

It forced me to become painfully undistracted for a few hours each evening so that I could exercise the discipline of pointing all of my undiluted needs at one place at the same time.

We spent several evenings so bored that we had no choice but to foster really deep conversation in our living room. Several times we returned home after a long day and desperately wanted to turn on the TV, but instead went to bed and were shocked by our responsible life choices.

I missed wine especially on days I was stressed and tired and frustrated, when I wanted to checkout instead of trace emotions back to their logical explanation or solution. I processed a lot more. I prayed more. And only once did I lean over a restaurant booth and say to a friend, “Please. Can I just smell your beer?”

My devotional yesterday quoted Charles Spurgeon,

“There is no space for the Prince of peace but with the humble and contrite spirits which by grace he prepares to yield him shelter.”

Spurgeon essentially says that the only place Christ can dwell is in the hearts of those who make room.

And if a virgin was willing to raise a King, if shepherds were willing to trade leading sheep for following a star, then maybe I can make room, too. Maybe I can eliminate some of the loud crowdedness of this stay-at-home life long enough to extend the greatest invitation of all.

I’m like a manger—an unfit place for a king to come and dwell, and yet by grace he comes and does it anyway.

Tomorrow is Christmas.

Finally!

In many ways it will signal a wonderful conclusion: the end of a fast, the end of Advent, the end of a travel day from warm San Diego to snowy Colorado.

But mostly it will initiate a celebration. Tomorrow signals an exit from one role and entrance into another. We stop waiting and start welcoming. The long-awaited King finally arrives. Immanuel, God with us, is here!

And he is dwelling in the most unlikely places, first in a manger then in regular humans who make room in their hearts and in their living rooms for the King to make himself at home.

Merry Christmas, friends.

I raise hands of worship to my King.

I raise a glass of celebration to you.

And then I cover my ears and beg that no one tells me what has happened on Parenthood.

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