I recently created a “Never Have I Ever” Christmas edition game for my youth group students to play at our Christmas party. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, “Never Have I Ever” is a game where you put up 10 fingers, I make an “I have never” statement, and if you’ve done the thing I said I have never done, you have to put a finger down. The last person with a finger or two up wins. My goal was to make 50 “I have never…” statements, all centered around the theme of common Christmas rituals and expectations. I was surprised to find how easy it was to come up with traditions that are so commonplace in American Christmas culture that they’ve come to be expected. Christmas feels like chaos, and unless you’re Monica Geller, chances are, much of what the Christmas season entails does not come naturally to you.
I have found that the Christmas season is one of the most juxtaposing seasons of each year. I find it hard to beat the sight of the glow of my tree early in the morning as I hold a warm mug of coffee and sit near its base before the sun rises. Then somehow, just a few hours later, I’ve grown impatient with my neighbors in the mall parking lot because “they don’t know how to drive” (and obviously, I do), as we’re all set out on a quest to fill the base of that tree with more and more stuff, with the added pressure of getting more and better stuff than in years previous. The close of each year is filled with fluffy blankets and candles; icy sidewalks and harsh winds. Hearts feel like they’re caught in a Christmas tug-of-war, and we are overwhelmed by all that is and grieving all that is not yet.
When I look at the virgin Mary, I see a deep-rooted juxtaposition in her as well. Chaos, fear, and uncertainty. Hope and peace and joy and trust. She couldn’t have known that in some 2,000 years there would be Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday to prelude the insanity with the advent season still ahead, but what she did know; what she was learning, was that chaos and peace can coexist and somehow bring us closer to seeing God. By all outside circumstances, the world’s first advent looked different than ours, but is it possible that the differences are not as stark as we tell ourselves they are?
The first advent looked like new life growing inside of a young woman. The world’s first advent was gestation that looked like shame as many watched the betrothed Mary’s belly swell. I wonder if she tried to tell her story, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Perhaps doubt crept into her mind as she had to ask herself if she truly believed she could become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. But if there was one thing that our young Mary was certain of – and so certain that she was willing to carry shame – it was that this all matters. It mattered that God chose her to carry the Messiah; it mattered that miraculous conception was taking place within her lineage; and it mattered that people did not understand. Mary understood that history’s greatest author was writing her story with intimate attention to each detail. Though there was chaos, though there were rumors, though there was shame – nevertheless, she persisted.
Advent is a time and a space for us to prepare for the coming of so many things – Christmas parties, family members, and the new year ahead – but if we are not rooted and fixed on the person of Jesus coming into the world, the chaos that reigns in the month of December threatens to swallow us whole. What if in this advent season, we chose to believe that the chaos that surrounds us is not the story? We are not defined by the budget we have for presents, our baking skills (or in my case, lack thereof), or the loveliness of the Christmas trees in our homes. Like Mary, we will always hear the whispered opinions of those caught up in how advent “should be done.” And like Mary, our lives may look different from those around us in this advent season – perhaps there is someone missing from the table this year, perhaps this is the first year your son or daughter is bringing home a significant other of the same sex, perhaps you find yourself trapped in depression, anxiety, or addiction, and you do not know how to cope. But the promise of Jesus – the promise of His story intertwining with ours – has the power to transcend circumstances and inscribe in our hearts a personal magnificat; a manifesto declaring His faithfulness, goodness, and His willingness to show up. He always shows up – especially in the places where the world would tell us He could not possibly long to dwell: a virgin’s womb, a tormented mind, a lost dream, a changed plan. He shows up. Do not be afraid.