A Thrill Of Hope, The Weary World Rejoices…
By Candace Sandifer
I remember my youngest daughter’s first Advent, because of how truly awful it all went down. I had been preparing for months in advance, Christmas outings reserved, matching outfits purchased with coordinating bows and shirts for her older brothers, presents galore, parties planned, photos scheduled and then….the flu. Yes. The full on FLU hit the house hard that first week in December. Those Santa photos? Only my oldest son and my husband could attend. (Those are still Carson’s favorite photos with just himself and Santa. No siblings. What a win for him ;)) The ride on the Polar Express that was well over $100? Tickets sold the day before we were ready to ride. The tickets to the Symphony? Handed over to friends while my husband and my sweet baby girl, who was only 10 months old at the time, moped in misery while it felt like everyone else in the world was celebrating like we should have been. I ended up with not only the flu, which morphed into bronchitis, but also the gift of two stress fractures in my ribs from the constant coughing. If I had not been listening to the soft whispers of my God asking me to slow down before, his obvious hand in physically forcing me to slow down was seen and felt loud and clear that season. The following year, in true Type A Facebook world of mothering fashion I was at it again. Overcommitting, over spending, overdoing, overworking, over………everything. Santa visits with screaming exhausted toddlers and preschoolers just aren’t fun. Not for you, not for your kids and certainly not for Santa. But, we went anyways. I imagine God shaking his head in a knowing fashion at my escapades.
We all fall victim to the Christmas Crazy. For many of us, this cycle repeats year after year and isn’t exclusive to our generation. My husband and I laugh every year at the song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” when they sing “ And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again” and laugh like crazed maniacs. I mean, this is what Christmas is about! Everyone loses their mind while preparing for the most wonderful time of the year! Right?
Christmas, or truly, Advent is meant to be a time of joyful anticipation. Joyful. Not anxious, overcommitted, “at each other’s throats for the perfect Christmas card photo can this be OVER now please” anticipation. Joy. Peace. Hope. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gives us this easy explanation of what Advent is and what it means:
Advent has a twofold character:
- as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered;
- as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second Coming at the end of time.
Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation [Norms 39].
I can say, that many times our Advent preparations are anything but devout, and seriously lacking in joy. But there are always times, every year, when I sit back with a smile on my face and watch my little ones drinking in the spirit of the season and I tear up with the love of a mama who is mostly grateful for them and how much they make Christmas a joy for us. More often than not, these are the unplanned nights and days. Those quieter times with family, at home, in front of the Christmas tree drinking a simple cup of Swiss Miss cocoa. I realize, those are the times to be treasured. As our kids have gotten older we have settled on three solid Christmas traditions in our family: gingerbread house building the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the season, buying a live tree and setting it up together and yes, the symphony. Anything more than that, is a bonus. If it happens, great, if not no big deal. No more three hour lines for the Mall Santa Photo, if we catch one at a breakfast with him, that’s the picture we frame, and these days most of those photos are free. No more trains to the North Pole. No more $350 dollar 13 foot live trees that are a pain to decorate and always leave us more frustrated than merry. Enough. If it truly doesn’t bring joy it goes off the calendar.
Fewer plans, and more quiet…and it is absolutely still a struggle to live by that commitment. I live for sweet photo ops, I want to give my kiddos the best Christmas experiences ever. We all do. However, that intense feeling of love for my kids pales in comparison of the love Jesus, our newborn king has for us, and that’s the message of Advent. God loves us so much that he sent his son down to be born of a Virgin, in a manger, to live among us and spread the message of his love and then to die on a cross for every single one of us. No matter our sins, no matter our failings, no matter how many times we post on Facebook those fake photos that never quite tell the whole story. He loves us. Christmas is a reminder of how much he loves us. And that is when my weary heart fills with joy. I am the daughter of a King, born to us in Bethlehem and I anxiously wait in joyful expectation for his coming again. He will come again! What a message for our weary and worn world. A thrill of hope, our weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. He is coming, praise Him.
Won’t you join our family in this season of wonder to step back, stay home and live in the moment? Even if you cancel one thing from your calendar this year, it’s a start. We are so grateful to have our children in a school that supports families in the time of Advent, and what better way to encourage those teachings than to take them to heart in our own homes this season. Less crazy, and more Christmas. Let’s take the time to light the candles on our advent wreaths instead. Let’s devote a few more minutes to Jesus. He is so worthy of our time and devotion.
“For to us a child is born…and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…establishing justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
Blessings to everyone as we embark on the season of joyful expectation. Alleluia! The Son of God is born!