I always want to bring something to the table when it is time to talk about Advent. It is such a special season that holds so much for believers. The waiting, the asking, the anticipation. I see people scurry around, ready for a holy encounter with the Living God in between their gift wrapping and church going and I wonder if this is how it really should be, this season of Advent.
I think about my own experiences. My first Christmas abroad, when a little one was brought into the world (which changed my life in the most amazing of ways). My Christmases coming home and being warmly greeted by family and friends. Our Dominican Republic Christmas in which we adorned a cactus with lights and a turtle ornament and went to the beach after drinking mimosas. I think about this upcoming Christmas, which will be spent in Haiti, helping our amazing Haitian partners put on a Christmas show for the community. Christmas is a special time. And, we like it that way.
But, I can't seem to shake this idea that it is just not supposed to be this way. Yes, I champion the sentiments of every Hallmark movie, "the Christmas spirit should be around all year," but it is more than that. Christmas is not only about feeling good. It's also about disappointment and unmet expectations. It's political and difficult. It's all of these things wrapped into the holiday package of Christmas. For years, I have not wanted to unwrap this part.
If we look at the life of Jesus, and the way He came to be, it can be shocking. While we read our books, white-washed and safe for children, His birth was truly a scandal. Born to two poor kids, unwed yet promised to one another, Jesus, God-incarnate, could have come in any form He wanted to. He chose to be a helpless babe, but he also chose to come to a poor family. God saw it fit to dwell with people who were poor. Born in a barn with farm animals, excrement everywhere and the stench of animal life around Him, He came. To two kids who were unmarried, He came. To a world where they were expecting a King to overthrow their current and horrible political circumstances, He came.
I think about what I felt like as I was getting married: planning my life with Ryan. Heck, after nearly 9 years we still don't have kids. The disappointment that perhaps raged in the minds and hearts of Mary and Joseph as they prepared for their lives to be turned utterly inside out and upside down resonates with me this year. Surely they were excited, but they also probably felt alone. Sure, they were hopeful, but they probably also felt a little crazy. And, while I am sure they felt honored to be responsible for little baby J, I am also sure they felt incapable and unprepared: an unwed mother and a carpenter.
I think about what the entire people group, who in retrospect had been going through a season of waiting and anticipation, felt at that time. Waiting for the Lord to deliver them and they get a baby born to a poor family. Talk about disappointment. Talk about the lack of an overthrow they so desperately wanted. Talk about a crappy Advent.
This year, my life has been a little disappointing. Many of my close friends know, but I have been walking through a battle of seemingly unending (and random) health issues. Despite the fact that I eat as clean as I do (most days) and use essential oils (the good kind), and pray and reach out to God - - I have still been overwhelmed with disappointment. This is not because my life isn't good, but because it has not been what I expected. I felt like I was only okay with going through a hard time if I could also be the author of my own life's story. I wanted to say how my life would turn out. I wanted to say when, how, and where my healing would come from. Needless to say, I have been disappointed.
I have also met disappointment on a larger scale this year. Coming back to the USA, I am reminded of so many people of faith who believe differently than I do. For me, a crucible of my faith is serving the poor, and I do not believe some believers are called to it and some not. I believe we are all to take care of the poor, after all Jesus made that pretty clear from His arrival and into His ministry (#sorrynotsorry). I haven't known what to do with the hate and bigotry and dissension that comes from people's hearts and into my ears. In many ways, I am a disappointment to myself because I usually shrug my shoulders or feel so awkward that I do nothing. I have avoided important conversations because it has honestly been such a culture shock to remember how hard it is to talk about the issues and stigma surrounding the poor. I understand that my life looks different, and so I don't want to judge. But, I also cannot explain the let down I have experienced talking with other believers who say some of the most hateful things. It has made me question my own association with American Christianity, and depression has greeted me with an empty, warm hug
In the middle of my disappointment and unmet expectations, I have found something else: holiness; humility; peace. In the middle of my wanting and striving, I have remembered my peace in the middle of the chaos: a perfect little babe born to people so ordinary. I have realized that Christmas, in some ways, did not look like anything revolutionary at the time. The unwed and shamed parents; the unmet expectations of a people; the hopes and dreams these parents had for their Son: they were all so ordinary in so many ways. Likewise, disappointment and let down are also so ordinary and normal. But, that's where God meets us, during Advent and throughout the year. He meets us in our chaos, literal horse and cow dung, and unmet expectations and gives us his peace.
He gives us His peace through his presence, His withness. He reminds me that though disappointments may abound in both my own cultural experiences and personal life let-downs, I don't have to have all the answers. The answers are perhaps found within His dwelling alongside us in our questioning and frustrations. Perhaps that is the part of Christmas that should extend year-round. Remembering that God is with us, Emmanuel, and that He will continue to show up, even if it is in ways unexpected.