I sit at a Christmas event at my church and chat with a friend. We’re not sure if it’s the unseasonably warm fall we’ve had or just the busy nature of life as moms with with young children, but we’re feeling like it can’t be Christmas already. We’re not ready for this season. The event we’re attending is called “Essence of Christmas,” and its purpose is to remind us of the reason we celebrate. The speaker’s message is titled, “Give us eyes to see the wonder.” And I want those eyes, I really do. I just wonder why it has to feel like a battle, a war to find Jesus.
In a way, I’m prepared. I have my to-do lists, and I’ve crossed off much of the shopping. I’ve removed things from my list, even, freeing up some space to breathe. Trying not to be so busy that God is ignored. But this nagging feeling of distraction from the true meaning of Christmas is hovering. I can’t shake it, this feeling of having to fight to find Christ in Christmas.
It’s a daily ordeal, it seems, to keep my focus on Christ. One would think it should be easier in this season of Advent, of celebrating His coming. The decorations and songs are everywhere, reminding us of Christmas. Yet, instead of reminding me of Christ, I feel the pressure to remember the lists and the busy and the stuff. Can I let the sights and sounds of the season point my mind away from the list and to His love for us?
We try a new tradition this Advent season, a Jesse Tree. It will be good for the kids, I tell myself. A reminder for them that the season is not just about gifts under a tree, but the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. But the lesson is for me. I might need it more than the kids. They are excited for the presents, but not distracted by the busy.
I decide I have a good a pot to use for our Jesse Tree. It holds a wilting plant in need of a larger pot. I don’t anticipate how hard it will be to transfer the plant to a new container. The soil is dry, and the roots are tightly twisted and wrap and wind around themselves. Can I stop being so wrapped up in myself and my to-do list and open my arms to the gift God has so richly given?
I cut some branches from a lilac bush, arrange them in a pot and tie a bow. I stuff old newspapers around the branches to help them remain upright. The papers advertise holiday shopping specials, and as I push them into the pot, I almost laugh at the fight playing out before my eyes. Will I push away the “Buy! Buy! Buy!”, crumple the consumerism and fill my heart with Emmanuel, God with us?
I move some Legos, a few random toys and a crusty Cheerio, and place our new Jesse Tree on a bench in our dining room. In a moment, my almost 6-year-old daughter puts a Star Wars figure on a branch in the tree. There it is again. This tree intended to remind us of God’s story becomes a playground for my daughter’s imagination and a different story she is acting out. I wait for frustration to well up inside me, but it doesn’t come. Maybe it’s just part of the fight, I think. This act of seeking of Christ is more of a stumbling around. At least I’m recognizing the struggle.
Our family of five sits around the table to eat. The kids are anxious to hear more about the funny sticks in a pot. We read Isaiah 11:1-2. Our 7-year-old son hangs a paper ornament on the tree. And then, we rush. Hurry, hurry! Clear the dishes; bundle up. We need to get to our town’s annual lighted Christmas parade. We’re at it again. Rushing away and leaving thoughts of God hanging like a paper ornament on a tree.
We drop off our son at his lighted float with the Boy Scouts and proceed to find a location to watch the parade. The buildings around our town square are decked out in holiday decorations, and people wear hats and mittens and blankets to keep warm as they wait for the parade. I walk with our middle daughter while my husband, a few strides ahead, holds the hand of our youngest daughter. The girls skip along and then stop to admire window decorations. It starts to snow. It’s a postcard moment, really, and I’m quite taken with the beauty of it all.
I hear a whisper. Enjoy this. I am here, too. And I realize, we have not left God behind, sitting by our Jesse Tree. Emmanuel, God with us! Why was I blind to seeing this earlier in the day? This Advent season is more than preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ and remembering a baby in a manger, but preparing to see Him daily come as a Savior who gives life.
I’m reminded of a passage that has become a favorite, Acts 17: 24-28.
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. — Acts 17:27
He is not far. I can put down my boxing gloves and call off the fight. The battle may rage in the world, but for a moment my heart finds peace. The preparations of a new Advent tradition, of tying sticks and coloring paper ornaments, has done it’s job. It has turned my eyes to God. Christ came down. He is near.
I’m including this post in an Advent writing project over at Wide Open Spaces.