Advent meditation for 6 December 2016

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Annunciation, by James Tissot. I love it when the angels are weird.

I’m a fairly patient person; waiting isn’t painful to me as long as I know what it is I’m waiting for. When I don’t know what’s coming—when all I know is that it’s something big, something with the potential to shake up my life, something that might go easier if I were able to prepare for it but I can’t prepare for it because I don’t know what it isthat’s when I get anxious.

Most of the time, Advent is, to me, precisely what it’s “supposed” to be—a season of joyful anticipation. This year is a little different. I don’t know where I’m going to be living come Christmas. I don’t know what kind of world I’m going to be living in come January. There are no Christmas decorations up in my house this year. I spent the entire month of November in another state, and I feel like I abruptly skipped from All Hallow’s to Advent without any breathing space between. I usually think of “waiting” as something you want to be over as soon as possible. But the dread you experience when something is barreling down the pipeline towards you at far too fast a clip, that’s part of waiting too.

This year, for a number of reasons, the waiting of Advent is, to me, the kind of waiting that doesn’t last long enough. Like, if Christmas could get here in two months instead of three weeks, that would suit me just fine. If time in general could slow and stretch, I would be into that. I always feel like things are happening a little too fast. I react to all change like it’s a change for the worse. A daily dose of dread is a normal part of my life.

The way practically everyone tells the annunciation story, Mary’s complete submission to “God’s will” gets emphasized over everything else. But even if humble obedience really was her chief reaction to being told by an angel that a divine fetus was about to be magically implanted in her body, I’m sure that wasn’t the whole of it. I know that if I were in Mary’s shoes, I would definitely be wondering about the nature of the holy infant I was carrying. Like, how does “divinity” express itself in a baby? Is this kid going to be speaking in complete sentences with the authority of God the Father straight out of the birth canal? Is he gonna have wings? You’d have to pause, considering the possibilities.

I don’t think the Bible indicates whether Mary’s pregnancy lasted the full term of a normal human pregnancy, but let’s assume it did. For eight months, Mary could treat all those questions as theoretical, but around the beginning of month nine, I bet she felt the glare of metaphorical approaching headlights. No doubt she was full of tender maternal joy, just like all the stories say, but if there wasn’t a little dread mixed in there too, I would be very surprised.

I find all of that sort of comforting. When December 1st rolled around last week and I didn’t feel like dragging out my mini-tree, I felt like I was ruining the holiday season. But I feel less that way now. The darkness that wraps around the northern hemisphere in December makes dread practically a biological imperative. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s fine that I sometimes look at the birth of Christ and see an event rivaling the Second Coming in its fear and uncertainty. The word has turned upside down many, many times. The here-and-now has always been someone’s apocalypse. Advent is the prelude, not just to the miracle of the incarnation, but to the ministry of the man who gave us fair warning that he came to bring not peace but a sword. The dread is probably a gift of some kind. I just have to figure out what to do with it.

rosembarron

Annunciation, by Rose M Barron. I love everything about this, but especially the skeptical look on Mary’s face.

In the Bleak Midwinter

1. If you’re going to write about Christmas, you have to pick a side: pro or anti. Indicate that you are “meh” about Christmas, or that you can “take it or leave it”, and no one will believe you, not really.

2. The Christmas that you were 6 years old, you had trouble finding your shoes when it was time to leave for the 10 hour drive to your grandmother’s house. You nearly cried because you believed your parents when they said the trip would have to be cancelled because of your shoelessness.

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3. You were 12 when the big annual Christmas trip to Kentucky became something to dread rather than look forward to. There was an overlapping church retreat you wanted to go to instead that year. Presents were less exciting than people for the first time ever.

4. By high school, you were dreading Christmas so much that you gave all your friends your grandmother’s address and made them promise to write during the week you were gone. This was 1997; your grandmother wouldn’t have internet for another decade.

5. The first Christmas after you started college, you got presents for everyone, joined in the cooking, and tried to act like an adult. It lasted until the first time your mother ordered you to do something, and you found out that nothing makes you act like a child as much as being treated like one.

6. The Christmas your uncle was home on a brief leave from Iraq, you gave an Oscar winning performance of a person who was enjoying herself. It was so good, there were moments when you forgot you were faking.

7. When you were 27, your cousin and her friend took you to a bar and a drag revue on Christmas night. You had 6 Irish car bombs and didn’t throw up. It’s still the best Christmas you’ve ever had.

8. The first Christmas you didn’t go see your family, the complex was so deserted you felt like the sole human survivor of the apocalypse. While your roommate was away, a cat came to visit. You ended up naming him Beau and keeping him hidden in your room for the next six months.

9. The next time you went home for Christmas was the last.

10. Last Christmas, you were dating someone, and you got the world’s most amazing Christmas package in the mail, complete with a stuffed stocking. You lied and told her you wouldn’t look in the stocking until Christmas morning, but you were too excited to wait.

11. These days, your Christmas traditions involve dropping roommates off at airports. You make hot buttered rum and watch all the QI Christmas specials in a row. Your favorite part is digging out the ornament collection you’ve been working on since you were six and decorating a tiny tree.

12. The really difficult thing about Christmas is that it’s no longer the time of year when everything stops in its tracks for a week. You don’t go new places or see new people. Your life carries on the way it did the week before and the way it will the week after, unless you make yourself stop. And it’s difficult to stop, or see the point in stopping, when you’re alone. Are you happier alone? Usually, you think so. On the whole, you probably are. But there’s no point pretending it’s a normal day, and anyone who tells themself otherwise is selling something.