I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been immersed, body and heart, in Advent. Yes, today is Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent isn’t until this coming Sunday, December 1. But Christmas came to my family early this year. Tuesday afternoon, in fact, around 4:00PM when my daughter and son-in-law brought their infant child home after nearly 12 weeks in neonatal ICU. The sight of seeing this 7 pound joyous bundle of God’s incarnational love meeting her big sis, who is all of 20 months, for the first time was the best Christmas moment I have ever experienced. Hands down! Ever. The joy and celebration we shared together was one of those holy and sacred experiences that stay with you forever. One of those treasured moments of light that is more than enough to get us through the trials in the dark that come all too frequently in the life of being human. A moment when God’s love bursts through everything to bring peace and goodwill and hope. A moment that pierces through all doubt or cynicism and softens even the most calloused of hearts.
The year’s arrival of Christmas did not come without a time of preparation, or advent. Advent means waiting for something that has been promised. It’s about anticipating and preparing for what is to come. And specifically in the Christian church, it is about anticipating once again the arrival of God with us in Jesus Christ. I don’t think I really understood the meaning of an advent season before this year. I think I just went through the motions. As an ordained pastor, I make sure I wear the purple stole during Advent, that we sing “Advent” hymns, not Christmas hymns, and that the Advent candles are lit in proper order each Sunday leading to Christmas Eve. I make sure to preach the texts that are messages of Advent as shown in the church lectionary readings. On Christmas Eve, I make sure there are candles in the sanctuary for each person to light so that we can once again be reminded that the Light of the world has come. I do that kind of preparation without hesitation. But I can honestly say I never understood how important and how difficult it is to totally surrender to the kind of preparation it takes to be able to experience the full impact of the Christmas moment.
Because this baby granddaughter of mine was born at 26 weeks, as I have previously shared, she has spent the last eleven weeks developing, “preparing” for life, outside of the womb in ICU. For a while her breathing was strengthened through tubes carrying oxygen, her nourishment was provided through a tube until her body was ready to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing all at the same time. Her body temperature was kept stable in an artificially womblike environment until her body was ready to regulate itself. She was in the hands and custody of a capable, compassionate, but nevertheless professional institution until it was deemed she was ready for her parents to take her home, as promised. This baby girl has had a very obvious season of advent in preparation for life. And she has steadily shown us what it looks likes to work hard and show courage, literally what it is to be mini but mighty.
My daughter and son-in-law, forced to face the scariest of uncertainties, have authentically, in the midst of fears and doubt and hope, surrendered control to God and to the love and care of community. The advent season they were thrown into isn’t something they would’ve wished on their worst enemy, but as with so many walks through the dark valley, they now experience the beauty of thanking God once again for seeing them through to this glorious time of light. Their complete surrender to this time of preparation has made it possible to fully experience the delight and gift of having their baby girl home with them.
As I sit drinking coffee, listening to Christmas music, and preparing that last minute grocery list for my husband to pick up those few ingredients I forgot (sign of unpreparedness no doubt) I am thankful beyond words for this special Christmas moment that has graced our family. There will be more seasons of uncertainty, challenges, and no doubt darkness in the future I am sure. But in this moment I fully surrender to joy and trust that the One who brought us here will see us through.
Happy Thanksgiving. May you experience the surrender of Advent and the joy of the Christmas moment. Over and over again. Something to chew on….