scattered thoughts at the end of advent

This will be my last post before Christmas, and probably for a few weeks.  I’m in the South now with my in-laws, and away from my computer. 

As Advent draws to a close, I’m considering why I did this, and what I learned from it.

The “why” goes back to October, actually.  A number of blogs I follow did this #31days challenge, where the authors chose themes and posted something related to that theme each day all month.  At the beginning of the month I thought it was gimmicky and maybe even self-indulgent. But halfway through, I found that seeing something on the theme of “peace” (for example) every day in my google reader was actually working to help shape my thoughts toward peace.

As Advent approached, I wondered if committing to post something every day around its themes might help me meditate better on Christ’s coming.

I didn’t do it in any professional, polished way. If I had, I would have made sure my images moved from dark to light through the month, I would have chosen a theme for each week, or worked my way systematically through certain scriptures.  I didn’t do it to try to grow my blog readership.  And I didn’t do it because I expected it would make some profound difference in your life, Dear Reader.  I did it for me. I did it because I’m not disciplined enough to do it in secret; I needed a star chart, as it were, to mark my progress, for accountability, as we evangelicals like to say. I did it because I’m weak.  And whether or not it helped you, I think it helped me.

Here, at the end of Advent, are the three thoughts still rattling around in my mind, from possibly silly to not silly at all:

1) It’s been a very mild winter, so far, in Indiana, practically snow-less.  I keep imagining our world a thousand years from now, more like a desert than it is today, people reading ancient texts that mention “snow,” and wondering if this "snow" is mythical or real, metaphorical or literal. 

But then I imagine them still practicing Advent in the desert, and it has nothing to do with winter wonderlands or red suits or hot cocoa or walmart.  It’s just the ancient prayers, the ancient “prepare the way for the Lord! Make straight paths for him,” the ancient practice of waiting for Messiah’s return.  This imagined scene warms my heart.

2) When it comes to Christmas, I’m not the type who gets stressed out, who spends too much money, who exhausts herself with perfect hosting, perfect gifting, and perfect meals.  Though I have my own idiosyncratic standards for myself, perfection demanded here and there, I’m not much of a people-pleaser. If anything, I tend toward another extreme - the Advent Conspiracy extreme, the one who wants to forego all the trappings and secular traditions and spending in place of a more “pure” holiday.

Given my natural inclination, these two articles have helped me remain somewhat balanced in my approach to Christmas:

- Amy Julia Becker’s argument that gift-giving is good because  “it reflects the idea that God has entered into the material world, and through that entrance, God has declared that the material world is good and worth celebrating, if not in excess then at least through extravagant generosity.”   She adds that Christmas can only seem extravagant to us if we modify our lifestyles throughout the year, if we -- say -- stop hitting “buy with one click” on amazon whenever we see something we want.

- Ellen Painter Dollar’s contention that denigrating the tasks of a busy holiday season (shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, hosting) as “less holy” than quiet meditation signals a kind of gnosticism in our approach to our faith.

She concludes: “God came to us in the most visceral, bodily experience known to humankind—that of giving birth, of being born. Christmas is therefore an incarnational holiday, a celebration of God revealed in the physical. We celebrate with palpable, physical pleasures: rich foods, lights brightening the winter darkness. I give my children presents that are both utterly frivolous and chosen deliberately in response to who they are and will become, just as the Wise Men gave to the baby Jesus. Rather than being distractions from the true meaning of Christmas, these are my small efforts to make God’s love real—touchable, edible, visible, audible—in my home and the wider world I inhabit.”  (But read the whole thing - you won’t regret it.)

3. The true light that gives light to everyone is coming into the world!

Merry Christmas, y’all.  Thanks for holding the long vigil with me here.