My mom says I'm in the ICU, emotionally. She says I shouldn't push the great grief weight away and I couldn't even if I wanted to. She says to read those books she sent because it is not good to ignore it. I know, Mom. I know.
Advent season is different this year - strange, like I am experiencing it for the first time.
This time, it is crude and rough as much as it is beautiful and bold. It feels more like a stable than a fancy Christmas Eve production. It feels stripped down, but that's not right either because nothing was stripped away in that manger scene. That's just all there was - stable, manger, animals, bright star, labor pains, angel choir in the pasture, shepherds on their way to worship.
This is not the acoustic version of something more glorious. This was the glory, all of it.
And I feel the glory in the weeping gut of me, gripping an anchor and believing there is hope in this simple story.
My Aunt Sherry shared a sweet phrase from one of her Advent readings - that, in this strange season of glory, we are "spiritually pregnant with hope." I guess I get that. Pregnancy is not fancy or perfectly wrapped. It is weird and painful and awkward. It is declined invitations and sleeping early and it is emotions on emotions. But, it is also life. Pregnancy is that beautiful affirmation that God is still invested in creation, still interested in life. It is hope the shape of a lime or a prune or a grapefruit or a watermelon.
The advent sermon series preaches generosity and I am learning this is God's glorious version - the best release of His love. He chose to make His Son humanity with every bit of regular, un-fancy, and painful awkwardness. God was most generous in Jesus. Christ emptied Himself of all that He had rights to - all the glory and the fame and the comfort and the beauty and right relationship so that we could receive the greatest gift. The glory of the Christmas story is that Jesus grasped instead the ordinary so that all of creation could be made glorious.
But Jesus was not a stable born baby that grew to great fame. The story doesn't ever get more fancy. The glory is inside the ordinary, painful, trudging out of his life.
I was talking to my sister about this the other night, about how we can't get into "the spirit" of things. It's easier than you might think to let the city hype and lights fade to background noise, but I'm sure I look like a Scrooge. I am just trying to figure out how to anticipate this whole story - the glorious and painful ordinary of a Son who came into the world struggling and to later suffer and die. I want to desire the coming of Jesus - the birth, life, death and resurrection of Him - because it is the only delight where the sparkles don't shake off. It is the anchor of hope I hold with white knuckles, the glory story that is as deep as this grief story and more painful than morning sickness.
We gather on Sundays for Advent dinners at our apartment. This past week, I made shepherd's pie because it sounded like comfort food, almost like a Midwest casserole. As we reclined at table, I read the opening prayer:
May the splendor of your glory dawn in our hearts, we pray, Almighty God, that all shadows of the night may be scattered and we may be shown to be children of light by the advent of your Only begotten Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Evan lit the candles and Tam told us the reason, "As Scripture testifies: Jesus is the Word through whom all things were made. In him is life and his life is the light of all people. We prayed confession together and read the Scripture from Matthew. We recited the Lord's prayer and sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" before closing in prayer again.
I don't know what it looks like to be generous in bleak winters like this one. I don't understand the heart of God to love us so deeply in our wickedness to send such a gift in such an un-fancy way. But that is the glorious story - the first, best and only version. That is the glory story and I want to be pregnant with hope about it. I want to believe that all shadows of the night may be scattered and that I may be shown to be a child of the light.
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I think that might be the only way I can be generous in the bleak winters, to believe He scatters shadows of the night and that His light is in me as He lives and reigns in this world. Giving my heart sounds like more energy than I've got. Maybe I could manage stepping into the light, believing He is the light, and praying He make me worthy to tell the glory story. Maybe I could manage that.
Sidenote: I've been listening to my friend Wilder's Christmas album on repeat. So good.
Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.