Ann Voskamp Made Me Miserable Today

It is the day before Advent begins. Honestly…even with the few posts lately leading up to this…I am feeling that scattered, frustrated sense of not being ready.

 

The intentions are always, always good. The interruptions are always, always present. The list of things to do in the holiday season always, yes always, seems to long and to hectic.

 

We have appointments today, meetings tomorrow and Friday we drive to Cincinnati for a hockey tournament. Thus begins Advent season in our household. Plus, the dishes were not finished last night, the laundry is piling up…and the kids are hungry.

 

Do you feel that as well? That slightly anxious feeling building, telling you that you will not be able to pull of this Advent nonsense? You’ll be lucky to get the presents purchased and wrapped and the tree decorated. Hopefully all the decorations will be up before Christmas actually comes knocking on the door. Oh, and of course you need to find some way to give outside of your family this year…someone to help, some organization to encourage. Yes. Shoot, that should have been the priority, right?

 

Ugh…it’s closing in a bit, isn’t it? 

 

This morning I read Ann Voskamp’s blog about Advent, about the amazing preparations in her household for the Night before Advent. The box and the lights and the hot chocolate.

 

And I felt miserable. 

 

And then I felt foolish for feeling miserable. But, honestly, I thought: “Hmm, where in my house tonight could I set up something so peaceful and beautiful and wonder-filled?” Then I remembered that tonight is Wednesday night, a notoriously rushed and busy night in our household as the boys finish up assignments for tutorial tomorrow.

 

Still with me? Already feeling overwhelmed and Advent has not even begun?

 

Guess what? We’re right where we should be.

 

I spent part of the morning reading Bana Alabed’s tweets from Aleppo. That feeling of being miserable abated. I thought of the folks in Gatlinburg, TN and around the country who have lost everything to fires over the last few days.

 

Perspective.

 

And here is why I say we are right where we should be:

 

We need Someone beyond ourselves to help. We need God. We need salvation and comfort and peace…and we cannot muster it up within ourselves

 

And that is the entire point of Advent, as Voskamp points out so well…

 

“It’s Coming”

 

Oh my soul needed to hear that this morning. Even with all the reading I am currently doing about Advent, all the poems I have read and all the thoughts I have gathered…I need to hear the whisper: “It’s coming.”

 

God has seen us in our anxiety and our frustration and our fears alongside our hopes an wonder and loves. He has seen us and He has come. We need this season to remind us. We need the patience of Advent to walk slowly toward the birth of the Savior so we can hear that whisper twenty-four times:

 

It’s Coming.

 

The hope, the restoration, the healing, the peace…it is coming. It will probably not look like what we expect. A babe in a manger? Not expected. But it is coming.

 

So stick with me. Find some room on the couch tonight and think about Advent. Figure out a way to incorporate it into the next twenty-four days. Figure out a way to turn the family’s attention away from wish lists for stuff, and toward a patient waiting for the reality of God With Us. Go to Ann’s blog, seriously…she has amazing resources to help us this Advent season. You can even print some things off right now to have ready for tomorrow.

 

We can do this. Take a deep breath and don’t worry about the fact that the Advent Calendar is still stuck in some box of Christmas stuff. Light a candle and drink some hot chocolate…even if it is in the midst of dishes and and laundry.

 

Pause. And reflect. And be aware of that deep need we all have for the coming of the One who can bring the healing and the peace we so desperately crave.

Pause. Hold Your Breath.

 

She had been sick for a couple days, so she had been sleeping in bed with us. Early in the morning she was in that sleepy, half-awake mode. She reached over and pulled me to face her, and placed her little hand on my cheek.

 

It was intentional, it was tender, and I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to breathe. I wanted to remain completely still and just be present to this little soul who loves me so well. I wanted to feel that little hand on my face, to just let everything pause.

 

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We so deeply need this. We need to feel that intentional touch of love.

 

This season seems to be crying out for that awareness of being loved. That awareness of being seen, and of being known. People are crying out to be heard. Literally. Our fears and our anxiety and our anger, alongside our hope and our desires, are all clamoring for attention. The result is chaos, it seems. The result is this feeling of being unsettled.

 

We need that touch that pauses everything. That touch that makes us hold our breath and pay attention.

 

And so…Advent arrives. The season calling us to pause, to listen and to hold our breath as we wait.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I so need this pause right now. I need to feel deeply the love of God in the same way I felt Maddie’s touch on my cheek…that intentional moment of awareness of His love.

 

The Incarnation.

 

That moment when God revealed to us His love in a more intimate and deep way than anything we could have imagined. In the midst of the busyness of this season, and all the turmoil of emotions we have just experienced, and continue to experience, with this election…pause.

 

I love the following from Frederick Buechner, returning to it each year as an anticipation of this season. Advent requires us to be intentional and to listen. We, as a society, are not great at waiting and being patient. We are not great at listening and being silent. We are not great at anticipating…so this is an exercise requiring some discipline. But, oh how our soul needs this. Buechner:

 

Advent by Frederick Buechner

The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.

Make the space and the time to listen this season. Find the writings and the songs and the images which draw you in. Be aware of that touch of love from the Father, and hold your breath. Don’t move for a few minutes and just be aware. It changes everything.

Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew Peterson

Blaze again…

Monday morning comes early, it seems. Technically, it is all the same, but there is something about Monday that brings a solemnity making it a bit more difficult to begin the day. There are those who face a greater stress when Monday finds us; stress from work or school or other obligations. Sometimes it is difficult, for me, to awaken on Monday and think of Advent.

 

Sometimes Monday morning clouds the patient imaginations of Advent. I need help on Monday morning especially.

 

I love the poetry of Malcolm Guite. He helps me, even on Monday morning, to bring my thoughts around. There is a link on the title that will take you to him reading the poem and you can enjoy hearing it with the rich English accent. I needed to hear this morning the cry to blaze again like fire…

 

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

 

 

The patient waiting of Advent continues. Maybe all the more so we need the discipline of turning our attention toward the incredible reality of the Incarnation. We need to know that the stress of the mundane, the toil that we engage, and all the the responsibilities we carry matter. We need to know on grey Monday mornings that there is a reality which deepens the surface of what we see.

 

We need to know that the Story is true.  We need the breath of that reality on Monday morning to infuse and ignite us.

 

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

No Forced Merrymaking….

I missed a day, didn’t I? I missed posting a poem or two. Missed the moments of pause to take in Advent and to breathe the joy in. Missed a few of the steps in the walk toward Christmas morning.

I am always amazed at the busyness of life. I’m not sure why, because life has been busy for ages for us, and yet it still confounds me. Still frustrates me that I cannot slow things down and still embrace all the activities that are necessary and enjoyable.

Sometimes I stumble upon something, however, which infuses life again into the busyness. Something which makes the heart beat with anticipation and joy.

Joy.

 

Advent.

They go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Joy is slippery, though…we always struggle to define that elusive quality. We know it when it wells up within us, though. We know when our hearts are caught in trying to expand to contain the touch of heaven…

“I do think that while we are in this “valley of tears,” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. . . . It is only in our “hours-off,” only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy [to the joys of heaven]. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends.  Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis 

Necessary frivolity. Those moments of rest. And for those who help to usher in that ‘frivolity’ it is far more than game and festivity. Hours of discipline and study and inspiration come together to provide what may be rest or escape for the rest of us.

Like last night. In a home, the North Wind Manor, which also offers itself as the headquarters for the Rabbit Room activities, we were treated to a simplicity and frivolity that ushered in the joy of the season.

Make no mistake: it was not unimportant. It was necessary, and yet it was gift.

Chesterton on joy:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume [Orthodoxy], I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation.

“This tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.

“His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud, proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something . . 

“Solemn Supermen and Imperial Diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down from the steps of the Temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something . . .

“I say it with reverence — there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.

“There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.

“There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.

“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

If God did restrain the joy of heaven…He did at least give us glimpses. Last night we caught another:

and this…

Oh, this post is getting long, isn’t it? Difficult for me to be concise with words when joy is still so present. Eager for worship this morning as another step toward Christmas morning is taken. Hope. Peace. Love. Joy.

Let’s not let our hearts grow colder…let’s make room for the presence of joy this season.  I didn’t forget, I still have a poem for today:

The Birth of Wonder
by Madeleine L’Engle

As I grow older
I get surer
Man’s heart is colder,
His life no purer.
As I grow steadily
More austere
I come less readily
To Christmas each year.
I can’t keep taking
Without a thought
Forced merrymaking
And presents bought
In crowds and jostling.
Alas, there’s naught
In empty wassailing
Where oblivion’s sought.
Oh, I’d be waiting
With quiet fasting
Anticipating
A joy more lasting.
And so I rhyme
With no apology
During this time
Of eschatology:
Judgment and warning
Come like thunder.
But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.

No forced merrymaking here…thankful to Michael Card, Jeff Taylor and Buddy Greene for helping usher in a joy more lasting:

(By the way…these three are doing this concert in a few places. Kansas City on Dec 14, Dallas on Dec 18,  Prosper, Tx on Dec 19.  If you are anywhere near these places make sure you go!)