by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
It was a year ago that things all fell apart. I remember being called upon to share some advent reflections at a local church, and as I wrote, I kept on replacing the word ‘advent’ with ‘lent.’ There was too much going on, too much to take, too much to deal with. All I could hope to do was to ache.
Last year around this time I found myself wrestling with questions of the goodness of God, the presence of grace, and the meaning of hope, all the while unpacking the reality of my father’s illness and discovering that my grandmother’s cancer was terminal.
A year has come and gone. My father is much better, and my grandmother has passed away. There has been some give and take. And I wonder, on the eve of Christmas, what it might all mean. What does it mean for me as I enjoy the snow-covered mountains and time with family, even as so many others mourn?
Even as I continue to mourn, and as I wrestle through the paradoxes of life meeting death. It may all be connected, but the difficulty of dealing with such things is not lost on me. The ache of losing my grandmother is still present. The loss of stories and history and connection haunts like the empty chair at the dinner table.
Memories fade, even in a season of remembering and preparation for the advent of new life. Memories of times together, of joy and difficulty, of summer adventures.
Conversations with those who assume Christmas is already here (and are annoyed with those of us who would have them wait with us, through advent) frustrate me. I need to wait, even if they’d rather not. I need to prepare myself, to prepare my heart, to contemplate the ways in which I will welcome Christmas this year.
I long to celebrate, but I need also to anticipate and to prepare. I don’t know that I’m prepared – but that’s part of it too.
Preparing, yet unprepared for Christmas. Preparing, yet unprepared for the coming Christ. Preparing, yet unprepared for expectant hope to be transformed into joy. Preparing, yet unprepared for the way God’s kingdom will be borne out in my life, and the lives of many others.
How it will play out this Christmas, I can’t possibly know. Perhaps I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be. I know that when it does, finally come, I will not be prepared for the surprising way and place and circumstances in which Christ will be born.
And this year, that is perhaps the most hopeful thing of all.