As a kid, I’m pretty sure Advent meant little more to me than the chocolate-filled calendars that Grandmother sent over around Thanksgiving (which I’ve since learned to be liturgically inaccurate, as they tend to start on December 1st regardless of whether that’s the actual first Sunday of Advent). There was an Advent wreath off to stage right at my big Baptist church, but as soon as it was lit up went the light show and off we went singing anthems about “Joy, Joy, Joy.”
At some point I wondered: What about those of us who for one reason or another — whether due to melancholic temperament or mental illness or the mere fact that it’s cold outside — have a hard time with “joy, joy, joy”?
The gift of discovering the season of Advent, for me, has been its gradual introduction of joy.
As a writer, I know that good stories build. There’s an introduction, characters meet, suspense rises, hints are dropped like gingerbread crumbs to lead the reader along.
And, as a reader of Scripture, I know that God’s stories build too. They build for 40 days and 40 nights of flooding. They build for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. And apparently God took 9 months to come to us, to be like us and with us (which makes me wonder what Mary was doing and thinking and feeling all that time).
I’m glad that God’s stories build. It doesn’t provide the instant gratification of, say, chocolate Advent calendars. But it does provide enduring identification of God’s story with ours. It’s like God saying: “Take your time with finding your way — or your way back — to life and light and joy. It’s OK to take your time. I did.”
A while back, I was at a wedding reception and happened to be really not in the mood to be at a wedding reception. Getting dressed up and hearing a homily about love and smiling perfunctorily for pictures was quite enough. Then, it happened. A friend dragged me to the dance floor…then encouraged me to dance…then, in an admittedly well-intentioned effort to raise my spirits, reached out and lifted my cheeks into a smile. It stung for a second — first on my cheeks, then in my spirit. That quick exchange communicated that my less-than-joyfulness was essentially unacceptable.
Advent tells me that God isn’t out to lift my cheeks into any forced, festive smile. Rather, God is interested in lifting my life — even if it takes a while.
Advent tells me that less-than-joyfulness (acquired joyfulness?) is actually remarkably acceptable — commendable even.
Advent says that, no matter what the Hallmark cards and holiday commercials say, you don’t have to have “joy, joy, joy” now. You just have to start living into the story of joy. One page at a time. One step at a time. One candle at a time.