Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I need Advent.

Our jack'o'lantern's face has that wizened, sunken look...kind of like the woman wearing a purple daisy housecoat in the aisle at Dollar Tree who has forgotten to put in her dentures.

Yes, the pumpkins are still on our porch. The mums have browned and are all droopy and in need of cutting back. The straw wreath is still on our door.

All around me, my neighbors have decorated for Christmas, erasing chunks of the night sky with colored lights on their houses and white lights in their shrubs and giant inflatable light-up snow globe thingys in their front yards. People have their trees up and their presents bought and are already baking cookies.

And the music...oh, the music. It's everywhere, even inside my head. Rudolph and the horrible lisping child who "ain't been nuthin' but bad" and Santa Baby won't you bring me a duplex and checks and Frosty hippity-hop-hopping all over the shopping center are making me want to run into the mountains and hide out indefinitely in a cabin by myself.

Wait! I want to scream. Hold on a minute! I'm not ready...I'm just trying to recover from Thanksgiving.

We have a whole extra week this year...Thanksgiving was early (whatever that means), and it isn't even December why do I feel so out of breath, like I'm being left behind? Somehow, before the table was even cleared, with words of gratitude barely out of our mouths, the world went spinning madly into "the holiday season," everyone sprinting for the door with the goal of getting as much done as possible, as quickly as possible.

I feel like I got left sitting here with the dirty dishes.

Before you decide that I'm one of those bah-humbuggers, let me say that Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. I even got married in December, just so I could have a brass ensemble playing carols at my wedding and Christmas trees with lights as decorations. I love egg nog, cookies, wrapping paper and caroling. George and I have been making Christmas playlists since 1997, and we have amassed thousands of songs for holiday listening. Really, we should start playing the music as soon as possible, just so we could make it all the way through our old favorites and get some new things in the rotation, too...and most years, we have (all the while faithfully lighting our Advent wreath).

This year, though, I just don't understand the rush. Why do I feel so overwhelmed? Why the huge push to get everything done right now? So we can check everything off our lists and then relax and enjoy the holidays?

Today, sitting amid piles of unwashed things, some still in suitcases from our trip last week, I'm struggling to create order from chaos, editing my longest to-do list in recent memory (involving both sides of a piece of college-ruled paper). I have a bunch of lists right now- a house cleaning list, a gift list-turned-spreadsheet, a decorating list, a grocery list, a list of gift ideas for the grandparents. (I just made a list of my lists. That alone might qualify it as a compulsion.)

The house is a mess. I'm trying to do five things at once (involving multiple separate screens on electronic devices, a cold cup of coffee I've reheated twice already, and mismatched socks). I hear my babies' conversation as they are waking up from their nap, and my first thought is, "Oh, I'm not going to get anything done."

It all feels out of control (a situation I don't handle well, if I'm being honest). I'm not ready for Christmas, and there is so much to do. In an effort to get everything together, I am writing it all down, as if literally putting all of it under my fingers will help me to feel on top of it.

Suddenly, I realize that I am guilty of trying to control the Incarnation (and everything else, too) with my lists.

It's not only my house that needs cleaning. My heart and my mind do, too. I feel cluttered, overwhelmed by all the stuff I think I need to do, busy and scattered and distracted.

Fortunately for all of us, the arrival of Christmas doesn't depend on me and my chronic list-making and my incomplete preparations. Christmas is so much bigger than my lists. It is a turning point in history, the arrival of God-made-baby, Love made visible. It is hope with feet, complete with ten tiny toes. It can completely change everything, if we let it. It is a big deal. 

It's such a big deal, in fact, that we need time to prepare for it.

Yes, there are things to be done, as there always are. But it doesn't have to all be done right this instant. The false sense of urgency I feel is just that - FALSE - and I'm calling it what it is.

It isn't Christmas yet. It isn't even Advent yet, actually, and I don't have to do everything RIGHT NOW.

Today, I'm stopping.

I'm reminding myself that I have time...that time is what Advent is about. It's about waiting. It's about not throwing ourselves into the nativity scene while there is still leftover turkey and dressing in the fridge. It's about giving ourselves permission to start at a place that's less than ready. It's about taking a deep breath and realizing that our unpreparedness, our brokenness, our cobwebby corners and dirty floors are exactly where Christ is going to make his entrance...and that when Christ meets us in the middle of our mess, He makes it holy.

Waiting is hard, I often tell my son. I know it's hard to wait. I don't like to wait, either. But waiting, especially at this time of year, is also a gift. A gift of room to breathe. A gift of a spare moment to sit and ponder and stare out the window without worrying about the crumbs under the table or the bread that needs to be baked. A gift of empty space that doesn't have to be filled right away with a tree or neatly wrapped gifts.

We have time to get there.

I'm going to take my time. I hope you will, too.

And...I'm fighting back against the holiday muzak with a playlist just for Advent, starting this coming Saturday evening. If this sounds like something that would help you create space and take time to wait during this season of preparation, feel free to come by and listen along.

**Update: Here is the Advent playlist for your listening pleasure. You may need to download the free Spotify software to listen to the songs if you don't already have it. Enjoy!