Permission to Embrace the Ugly in Advent

10:22 AMHeather

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Actually, that is not quite true.  Seeings how I've been watching Christmas commercials since before Halloween. And Hobby Lobby was so overtaken with Christmas by August that I couldn't find anything for my summer back patio. And people have had their Christmas lights up for weeks. 

But now.  NOW, even the biggest grumblers for "not until after Thanksgiving" have to agree.  It's time. It's time for getting the decorations up, if they aren't up already.  It's time for the annual Day-After-Giving-Thanks brawl over bargains. It's time to go into debt and run around shopping. It's time to find the perfect outfit to outdo your look from last year's Christmas party.  It's time to moan at your full calendar and to try to find a way, for the love of baby Jesus, to think about the reason for the season.

Yep, bloggy friends.  It's that time.  And if you're like me, you have the best of intentions.  You MEAN to enjoy this season and rock this holiday like a Norman Rockwell painting. You MEAN to follow all those Pinterest ideas for Elf on the Shelf.  (Oh yes, get thee behind me, Elf on the Shelf).  Do or die!  You've got this, right?  C'mon kids, we are having fun with all the crazy, aren't we? 

Except try as we might, we aren't.  No matter our intentions or our plans or our very best efforts, the holidays are not the carefree wonder of our childhoods.  When the adults handled all the details and we just had fun.  We cannot recreate that magic. Because, UGH, we ARE the adults now.  

And if you've followed me much here, you know that last Christmas was incredibly unique for me, as I was recovering from an unexpected surgery.  There, flat on my back and heavily medicated, it was truly one of the most carefree holiday seasons of my life.  There was a forced freedom from obligation, from stress, from duties and expectations. The meds didn't hurt either.

And I loved it.  I loved it so much that I thought, "HOW can I replicate this peaceful Christmas?  Minus the surgery, please? And fully coherent."  I've pondered it all year long.  I've done even more than my usual shopping throughout the year.  I've considered what I love about the holidays and I want to continue and what I do NOT want to do.

I want family time. I want time with friends.  I want to think about the true reason for Christmas.  I want to be in awe of the purpose behind the season, not running around a mall.  I want to sit long over cups of holiday flavored coffee.  I want to soak in the words of Christmas carols and have them melt into my heart.  I want to enjoy giving, without the pressure of outdoing others.  I want to make it a memorable time for my children.  A meaningful time.  

I want to really really really really do this Advent thing.  I want the purple and pink candles and the family time reading Scripture and the margins to meditate on it all.  

So, I've hit it hard.  I love sending Christmas cards and receiving them.  And I love designing my own cards.  So I did them.  Since Thanksgiving week brought the flu and a fractured foot at my house instead of a planned trip to Florida, I got my cards mailed.  I've been busy since last week, mentally gearing myself for some creative therapy as I worked on some gift projects, refusing to see them as a task that had to be accomplished.  I decided not to worry with getting the tree and decorations up until we have an opportune time. I've even watched one or ten Hallmark Christmas movies already.

In other words, I have laid the groundwork the best that I know how in order to make this the best darn Advent and Christmas season EVER.   

Bring it, December 1!  I'm ready for you!


Except for one little thing.  It's called LIFE.  I don't know about your house, but life happens around here.  Things like migraines and grumpy kids or parents.  Things like frustration and busy schedules.  Things like the ramping up of soccer season for my oldest.  Things like a "margins" December calendar suddenly being consumed and tearing the house up because I can't remember where I stashed that check I set aside for Christmas gifts.  

Oh, bother. 

So we circled up at dinner last night and my youngest grabbed the little Advent Scripture countdown I made from a mini photo album.  She got her purple Bible and happily read the little passage for our family.  Then my husband and I did our very best to engage our children in a deep and meaningful conversation about John 1:1-5.  

Which leads me to this blog post.  Because listen in as I speak to myself.

Advent is actually all about the ugly.  Advent is really about the unexpected. At the heart of it, Advent is not about the perfect candlelight and enlightened conversation and the most movie worthy scene you can create.  

Advent.  I know the word.  I didn't grow up doing the candle thing, but I like it.  And I know Advent is about looking forward to the celebration of when Jesus came to earth as a baby.  

But what does it really mean?  Here, I've spent a year determined to nail this Advent thing and I realized I am not actually sure what it means beyond weekly candles and family readings.

So this morning, I looked up the definition on my Webster's app.

Advent-- 1--a coming into place, view, or being; arrival. 2--the coming of Christ into the world.

The freedom in this definition.  The permission to embrace even the ugly in our efforts to focus on advent.  Because the truth of it is that advent is the coming into view of HOPE.  In the ugly hopelessness. Of light.  In the deepest darkness.  Of peace. In the worst of chaos.  The coming of a perfect God, wrapped and confined in broken flesh, into a very messed up world. 

Advent is not about setting the perfect stage at all.

Advent is about realizing that our best efforts and our lives are messy and hard and broken and chaotic and crazy.  We miss the mark time and again.  Only Hollywood and Facebook statuses bring the picture perfect Advent.  For the rest of us in real life, it usually doesn't go as planned.

And that, my bloggy friends, is what advent is all about.  Us embracing our ugly and our need and our lack.  And seeing that THIS is where God chooses to meet us.  THIS is where the hope of eternity breaks through and heaven meets earth. Because THIS is how God's plans continually interrupt our best and futile efforts.

Because Jesus didn't come to earth in a Pinterest worthy scene with the best lighting and decoration and perfectly prepared meal or party. There was no burlap banner hanging there with his name or monogram. 

Jesus came to earth through a young girl and her skeptical betrothed.  Jesus came to earth in a dirty, dank cave--not a beautiful hospital room.  Jesus wasn't laid into a perfectly appointed bassinet but in a trough to feed the animals.  Jesus didn't wear a family heirloom baby gown but the strips of cloth found nearby.  

His birth announcement was not hand lettered with the perfect photo of him and his parents looking peaceful with a ray of sunshine behind them.

No, it was sung by angels to the least of these--the lowly shepherds, living out in the open, smelling like nasty sheep. 

Advent.  I think God is showing me that I actually can have the perfect advent season.  The one He actually intends for every one of us.

When I embrace the ugly and the unplanned and the chaotic and the mess.

Because that is where Christ first came into view.  That is where the long awaited hope for salvation first arrived.  That is the whole point of it.  The whole reason for this holiday.  The reason for the season.

That Christ comes into view in our worst moments.  To bring us the good news.  To actually BE the good news.

So if the kids are grumpy or the day is busy or the toilet backs up into your house... that is where you can advent.

THAT is where you can choose to applaud and celebrate that Immanuel is born.  

God with us.  In our crazy, mixed up messes.

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