December 20, 2019 Advent 3 photo by mjh+
Tonight on the Eve of the Winter Solstice, I sense a solitary pause in the evening air. All is still and all is bright as we approach the longest night and the shortest day of the year.
For as long as I can remember, my two kids and I have intentionally kept life simple in December during the season of Advent. As a single mom working in a church in the darkest time of the year, I’ve had to carry a lot of emotional concerns in my pastoral and personal life.
By necessity, over the years of my children’s young lives, I learned in hard ways that I had to let go of the expectations of others and of all the extraneous seasonal holiday activities which sapped my strength. I could keep focused on what kept us healthy and whole and that has been good enough.
Over time, our family practice in December became somewhat counter-culturally ascetic. I intentionally jettisoned all the “shoulds” I had learned and instead I focused on what was doable and life-giving for us. After 15 years, this is now our family tradition.
It’s tough to say a gentle “no” to kind invitations and extra activities sometimes, but it is also liberating, as every no opens a deeper yes. With intention, our calendar isn’t overly filled. This is a sacred time set apart for emptied prayers into the increasing darkness. It’s quiet, restful evenings filled with family time, candlelight, mantles decked with a wee bit of fresh greenery, and our living space filled with soulful music shared with kindred friends.
My two kids have grown up to be as fiercely protective of the simpler December days as I am. Then we pour it on in the twelve days of Christmastide… which are fast approaching. This year, they are returning home from away and the festive homecoming is all the merrier. My Advent has seemed all the more sacred in an emptied nest. I’ve cherished the unexpected expansiveness of solitude in this year’s Advent.
Soon enough the 4th Sunday of Advent arrives this Sunday. It usually always comes close to the Winter Solstice which is Saturday. This is the time when we will bring out the decorations for Christmastide and cook up our favorite foods for the next couple of weeks. Gifts get wrapped and put under the freshly decorated tree, good secrets are whispered, board games get started, and all the movies get watched.
This too is when the Christmas hymns pour out and ring true for us during the 12 days of Christmas. We know all of these hymns by heart and we can vividly remember when those who are no longer with us, were with us, singing.
The season for rejoicing such love and longing is soon upon us. We will overcome the darkness yet again! The Light will come, Jesus will be born and we too will be born again into God’s Love. Such love never dies, this we know in the deepest parts of our hearts.
On and around Epiphany Day, January 6 of the new year, those magical Magi will finally arrive at the Nativity, bringing lasting gifts even as we bring down the Christmas decorations. We will go back to our candles in January and keep up a wee bit of greenery until Candlemas on February 2nd. The seasons of Lent and Eastertide will also come along again in late winter. Before we know it, the sap will rise, the days will lengthen, and springtime warmth will return at the time of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And so it goes: to everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Turn, turn, turn, we know these songs of each changing season by heart.
Later tonight this house will be filled to overflowing again with happy voices for the next several weeks. Lots of good fun will be flowing as our sweet peeps come and go.
We remember too the grief of Christmas. There were some years it all felt unbearable, utterly too much to bear even one more day. I kept going, but I had no desire within me to persevere except for the sake of those I loved and loved me in return. One never forgets the aching losses, but mostly our bereavement has softened over time.
Tonight I’m holding all of this in my heart, pondering it all. I’m content to be sitting here alone for a quiet hour of in-between time.
And so in this twilight hour, I am enjoying the lightness of the waning darkness of Advent. Soon all that is Christmas will arrive in a blaze of Light. I’m grateful for the love of family, friends, and neighbors which brightens our hearts even on the darkest nights. I’m grateful for All Y’all.
To God be all Glory+
For further listening: