Every year, I look back at Advent and sigh. “I’ve failed … again!” Every. Single. Year.
You’d think, after a couple of decades, a few kids, living life, that I would learn.
But you’d be wrong.
And, to be honest, I’m glad I’m wrong. I’ve learned to be glad, in that “eyes rolling, groaning, complaining loudly” way I have.
Over the years, I’ve come to accept that failure might not be the worst thing. Maybe I’ve set my sights a bit differently than what God intends. Maybe what I define as failure — missing the mark I set — isn’t actually a lack of success. Maybe, in fact, I’ve (once again) turned my expectations into something they shouldn’t be.
Advent is short, so quick it’s hardly there. It’s not like Lent, dragging on and weighing you down. During Advent, there’s an ongoing battle between what it means to get ready for Christmas and the fact that it’s not yet actually Christmas (despite the songs, despite the parties, despite all the food).
This year, I’m looking at Advent as a journey with Mary and Joseph. I keep an olive wood statue of them on my desk, a gift from a dear friend of our family. Mary is perched seated on the donkey, holding Baby Jesus, and Joseph is supporting her from behind.
On the way to Bethlehem, Mary was very, very, very pregnant … and on the back of a donkey. I relate. I’ve been very pregnant during Advent, though never on the back of a donkey. Joseph had to be feeling the stress himself: hugely pregnant wife, long and dangerous journey, nowhere to stay once they arrived. I’ve seen my own husband struggle with the role of providing and taking care of his family, bearing the weight of it and every so often needing a reminder that God is there to bolster him.
I wonder, during that long, plodding distance, whether Mary and Joseph sang. There’s a lot of music going on this time of year, maybe more than any other. It’s music that, for once, is pretty universal, fairly positive, and usually inspiring people who don’t sing to pipe up.
For years, I’ve been firmly in the “no Christmas music during Advent” crowd. But recently, I started considering the joy that Advent promises. Joy is a funny thing: Whereas happiness is emotionally based and hinged on circumstances, joy is not. Joy is more profound, something deeper and wider and more.
Joy, like love, is a choice we make.
Have I been denying Advent the joy it so gently requests from me all these years? As I prepare for the most amazing gift in the Baby in the Manger, have I been holding myself aloof from the actual gift he has for me? In my own version of preparing, have I locked him out and kept him from offering me the joy that’s right there?
It’s an interesting concept that I’m going to try to embrace this year. In the midst of the many failures of the past, this year stands alone. There have been a few personal challenges that have brought me to my knees, literally and spiritually.
For years, I’ve struggled with peace. And now, this Advent, I find myself reflecting on joy. I can’t help but smile that both of those are words that are everywhere this time of year, as the excitement of Christmas seeps earlier and earlier.
Rather than fight against it, I’m going to try something a bit crazy this year: I’m going to lean into it. That’s the invitation God keeps sending to me: “Lean into me.” So, fine. What can it hurt?
It can’t make the failure of Advent any worse…and it may just make it eternally better!
Copyright 2019 Sarah Reinhard