Christmas Confession: I completely dropped the ball on our Advent Calendar/House and Elf On the Shelf. Yesterday, it dawned on me that there were only two weeks (eek!) until Christmas. In that moment, I knew there was no clever way out of this tardiness. Of course, my children would eagerly accept candy anytime – Advent House or not. But, some of the magic had been lost by not starting on December 1st. And so, the Advent House sits empty and our elves remain in the cabinet where I hide them each year (the drawer with tax filings and mortgage docs).
Death and Taxes
There’s a saying, that the two things you can be sure of in life are DEATH and TAXES. As, I stood, looking at those two elves shoved between our tax folders, God nudged my heart. Now, you need to know that I’m not one of those people who thinks Santa is bad, elves are evil and my children need to grow-up in an evangelical bubble (quite the contrary, actually). I love all of the stories and traditions of this season. But, this year….as much as I wanted to play the perfect mom with Pinterest inspired Advent treats and Instagram worthy pics of our elves….my heart just wasn’t in it. It’s as if God was telling me to let this tradition die in the tax files, believing He had something better.
So, I closed the drawer and walked out to the kitchen. Rather than surrender any more time to shame or worry, I went over to the table where my kids were eating their breakfast cereal and spit it all out. I told them that if they hadn’t noticed, the elves hadn’t yet come this year and that was probably because:
a) the elves didn’t get any help this year from mommy or daddy and
b) the reason they need help is because they’re not real.
I waited for the sky to fall or tears to well…. Instead, they calmly said, “Yeah, we know…the elves aren’t real.” Another added, “I’ve seen them on Amazon! You just order them!” As I breathed a sigh of relief, I remembered an idea that a friend had shared. I pushed aside the twinge of guilt that I was again two weeks late and made my pitch for a new Christmas tradition:
Hey, so my friend does this thing where every time someone in the family receives or witnesses an act of kindness, they write it down on a little piece of paper and put it into a box under the tree marked for Jesus. Then, on Christmas morning, before we open any of our presents, we open the box for Jesus and read all of the notes, remembering that the greatest gift is that of love….remembering what Jesus gave us and our call to love one another.
I waited. They weren’t gonna like it. I just knew it. But, I was wrong. All three kids nodded and said, “that sounds like a good idea.” My daughter even volunteered to make the box after she got home from school. And, she did. We are only one day in, but already the kids are filling the box with notes. This feels like Advent.
For the second year in a row, my heart is all out of whack this holiday season. The evidence goes beyond discarded elves and empty houses. Yet another example is this year’s family Christmas card. As I scrolled through Shutterfly designs, everything felt wrong.
Jingle All the Way.
Oh What Fun.
I couldn’t do it.
It’s not that my life was void of joy, but everything was NOT merry. I could not plaster over the pain and frustration of the last twelve months (Exhibit A: Roy Moore could well be elected to the US Senate today…don’t get me started!). I couldn’t even bring myself to pick a simple, ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting, as that simple phrase has been hijacked for political gains.
In the end, I went with LOVE.
It is the reason He came. It is the reason we celebrate. It is the real reason for the season. I truly believe that God sent His son, born in a manger and crucified on a cross – not so that we could see ‘Merry Christmas’ on our Starbucks cups or a cheap nativity set outside city hall but so that we could offer a cup of hot coffee to the homeless or shelter to the refugee or educational equity to low-income and at risk kids.
A Weary World
Today, I had the privilege of speaking to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church. I shared the journey of the last year plus to make my faith real…. to not just say the right words but to do the work of loving one another, especially ‘the least’, which Matthew 25 defines as those that are hungry, naked, imprisoned or vulnerable. At the end of my talk, I read them this recent Jen Hatmaker post on Facebook.
Advent also reminds us that most people missed Jesus because they were looking for him in the bright, shiny lights of power, politics, and revolution. But Jesus came as the Light of the World, and light was made for darkness, but nobody was looking there – no one was looking for a manger; they were looking for a throne.
Don’t miss this: it’s not that most of Israel wasn’t looking for him…they ALL were…it is that they didn’t recognize the way he came. It is in your dark night of the soul the Light of the World can be seen most clearly. Seek him. Look for him. Ask for eyes to see. Let your soul direct its attention to the manger of your story…not the palace.
He might not be found in the bright shiny light of expectations but in the humble, gritty places we didn’t bargain for.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Jesus is literally everything.
Indeed, He is. I am still processing what that means and how it fits into my Micah 6:8 journey….to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. It feels particularly relevant this Christmas, as I let old traditions die so that new ones can emerge. And, that’s usually how these things work….you have to make room. And, similarly, we will find Him this Advent season, if we look for him in the mangers and margins.
It’s where He ALWAYS is.