[Go to Short Fiction to read Advent #2, part 2 of "Jacob's Wish"]
[This piece is now 2 years old, but I think it still applies to this time of year . . .]
There is the deep breath you take, around Thanksgiving or a few days after. It’s the huge and hopeful breath you hope will sustain your air supply through the next month, because you will need additional oxygen to fuel the extra cooking and baking, the extra participation in various celebrations and rituals, the extra spending on gifts and holiday paraphernalia. Also, the extra communication, by phone, letter, card, or e-mail, because this is the time of year you feel obligated to connect with people far and wide, even those you don’t hear from more than once every year or two.
Also, and possibly most important, you will spend extra time with family—not just the people who live with you, but the people you used to live with or live around, such as parents and siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins, grandparents and great-aunts or second-cousins. Add to that all the people they have acquired over the years, such as girlfriends or boyfriends, spouses or other live-in partners, and the various babies and children resulting from this union and that. And don’t forget stepchildren or half-siblings—we may be a culture that reveres the unfractured, traditional family, but we seldom belong to one anymore ourselves. So our holiday gatherings are frenetic and uncertain, with so many and varied relationships to navigate.
The truth is, the next several weeks will require everything you have in terms of strategy and creativity. You don’t want to just buy the same gifts every year for the same people. You don’t want this year’s letter to sound very similar to last year’s. And, given that there’s less money than ever, your creativity and resourcefulness are not merely helpful but truly necessary for survival.
More than anything, what you need—and what this enormous, preparatory inhalation will not give you—is holiday endurance. There is too much of the impossible to accomplish, and yet you have the horrible feeling that if you do not accomplish the Christmas of All Christmases, your failure will register somewhere, perhaps in a dry, pale room in which all our failures are logged in bulky books by weary angels. To fail at Christmas is the ultimate moral, religious, personal, and psychological shortcoming.
Yes, it’s come to this. Christmas is one more chance to fail, and not only that, it is a chance to fail on multiple levels. So what can we do but suck in that tremulous breath and beg God for the grace to endure, and prevail.
Yes, it’s come to this—that such a holy time, overflowing with grace and replaying for us the central story of God in the universe—this startling and luxurious season has become something to endure. To get through somehow. To manage as best we can. God help us.
Well. First of all, let’s stop sucking air and instead say out loud to ourselves: “Christmas is not about me.” Let’s say that several times. Then we can repeat several times, with minor changes:
“Christmas is not about money, or anything material, for that matter.”
- “Christmas is not about fixing the life of everyone I know. Furthermore, it’s not about pleasing everyone I know.”
- “Christmas is not about my doing better at absolutely everything.”
- “Christmas is not about creating the perfect experience.”
Go ahead. Make up a few sentences of your own, suited to your particular experience. Take some time to remind yourself of what Christmas is not.
Then, exhale all that anxiety you’ve built up and close your eyes, and remember . . .
Two people and a baby, walking into their strange lives one day, one step, at a time, with a little bit of faith and a little bit of hope.
- Poor and dirty sheepherders discovering that, despite everything, they find themselves on a chill, damp night suddenly embraced by the glow of heaven. Angels are singing—to them. And the same old hillsides vibrate and sizzle with the focused gaze of God—upon them.
- A countryside teeming with an oppressed population, its villages gripped by harsh foreign powers, its people growing up in an atmosphere of helplessness and poverty.
- A collection of very old stories that tell of better times to come, that describe eras that will burst with visions and upheaval, with harrowing destruction and then stunning restoration.
- Old people—kind grandmothers and raspy-voiced prophets—who can always be counted on to remember the stories that matter most.
- Young people—robust fishermen, zealous students, dreamers and movers—who will not give up imagining what God might do.
- You, today—full of your own mysteries and possibilities. You with dreams yet unremembered and with gifts yet to be revealed.
- You, right now—walking alongside that couple with their baby. You know that in order to learn from this infant you must allow him to grow up and find his voice. You’ll need to be patient. In the company of the Christ Child, you will need to walk into life one day, one step, at a time . . .
. . . until all of a sudden, you’ll notice that your whole life is embraced by heaven’s glow. And that angels are about, and songs hum through the air. It is Christmas day, and your life is still simply your life, but it carries within it the ancient stories that will always be true—about God’s mercy and Christ’s entrance into reality. Also, there are the brand new stories that holy desire is writing in you this very day.
Go ahead. Endure the joy.
Copyright © 2008 Vinita Hampton Wright