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Advent is not a Cottage Industry
A little note for all those feeling overwhelmed
I love the liturgical year. I love the colors, the aesthetics, the ways in which prayer and scripture intertwine and bring us into postures we might not get to otherwise.
But, over the last several years I’ve noticed how the liturgical year has become it’s own sort of cottage industry. There’s a new book or devotional out from every major publisher every single year. There’s new products to buy. There are special candles. I’ve participated in offering both Advent-themed and Lenten walking devotionals. These products aren’t bad, in fact they’re often so very good, that we’re compelled to think that if I just have this season’s latest offering, I’ll get a hold on the season.
I’ve been mulling over why this is. For me, I remember the years of early parenting when I spent about $25 on wooden pieces and paints from Michael’s and got my glue gun out and we (me mainly, but my then 2-3 toddlers helped me out) made Jesse Tree1 ornaments for Advent. It was a thing.
I had major #parentinggoals then. And more energy than I do now. I’m usually one to flip between a total-both-feet-all-in-let’s-do-this mindset or totally-pull-back-and-don’t-care apathy. This Jesse Tree project had the energy of the former. We still have those ornaments at the bottom of our Christmas bins and I feel a bit of a pang when I unpack them each year.
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They’re ugly, frankly. They speak to me of anxiety, of trying to do “it” right (whether the Advent season or child-rearing or something else).2 The big energy #parentinggoals can grip my heart in fear about “what if?” — what if we don’t do this and my kids don’t know Jesus? What if I lose it and even if they know Jesus they don’t want to follow him? — Likewise, my apathy can also fail in the ditch on the other side of the road when I fail to do the simple tasks that knit a fabric of belief, care, and love.
I suppose I wish I would’ve been slower to consume ideas or projects as the thing that was to secure “it.” That if we did our homemade Jesse Tree, then my kids would be less concerned about the $50 Lego on their list and more aware of the story of scripture. “It” was borne from a good desire for wholeness but the form it took was often frenzy. Frenzy does not hold up love very well.
Love is not full of anxiety or fuming. Love indeed is patient and kind. It does not envy or go crazy with a glue gun. Love is long-suffering, it bears with one’s own foibles and the foibles of those we love. It hopes, believes, and endures all things — even ugly ornaments or ones left undone. Love always pours itself out for the good of the other. Jesus’ yoke is easy. And, Jesus calls us to die. Both are true. Sometimes we feel the lightness and sometimes we feel the pain of death to self.
I wonder if, for me, perhaps this death grip on control, this frenzied doing, was simply the path that my own learning to love had to take.
So, if you’re sort of dreading the Advent rush to make this season special/meaningful/deep/true/beautiful, I get it. If you feel that welling up of frenzy or anxiety, maybe take a breath. When we make Advent (or any part of the life of faith) about a product to buy, a feeling to have, or a behavioral result, we’re believing our money or our feelings or our output is the thing.
Our money, our feelings, and our outputs are not the thing. These are all tertiary at best.
Jesus is the thing. He’s the embodiment of love who comes to a people who have largely forgotten hope in a promised Messiah. He comes to a young girl unprepared and poor. He comes to a man who chooses to endure shame alongside his betrothed. He comes to an old man whose quiet hope and its fulfillment even allows him to die. He comes to a widowed woman devoted to the place of God. He comes to outcasts and the poor and downtrodden and the weary. He comes to the self-righteous control-freaks who, when Jesus doesn’t fit into their box, admonishes them so they can wear the gentle yoke instead.
He comes now, to us. Not to boost the feelings of hot cocoa and twinkle lights, but to meet us in our doubt, our fears of losing control, our fights, and our exhaustion.
So as you look forward to Advent in the next few weeks, remember yes, it’s good to mark the season with candles and traditions and new books. It’s also right and good to just show up, read a Psalm, light a candle and sit in silence bringing your weary worn-out, control-mangled heart. He meets us still.
Love meets us still, right where we are.
The Jesse Tree is a way to celebrate how much of the Old Testament points to the reality and coming of Jesus, one promised from the root of Jesse.
If you rock your Jesse Tree, keep it up. Crafts aren’t exactly my thing. Mainly it’s the planning and details that make me batty.