Oh the senses that only this time of year can bring! They have been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember.
In fact, there may be nothing else in all creation that emotionally ties me to my parents and my childhood the way that this time of year does. At Christmastime, our home was a feast for the senses – the smell of my mother’s cooking wafting from the kitchen, the sound of tearing gift wrap, Christmas music, football games, laughter, a hundred conversations happening all at once (my family alone was eight in number). And of course…the absolute awe and wonder that I felt, knowing that Santa was really coming, and how – while I didn’t fully understand how he made it all happen – I didn’t need to. I just fully believed in the magic of all of it. In the midst of the color and light and warmth and beauty that my parents created, it was easy to believe. And to this day, my brothers and sisters and I do everything in our power to re-create all of it. What joy.
I would eventually come to know and fully embrace the story of Jesus, and as a young adult, I would begin attending The Church at Highland Park. This would be my first experience at a church that embraced a liturgical style of worship – one that introduced me to Advent. And what an interesting, striking thing this was! In contrast to the brightness and revelry and wonderful chaos of Christmas, this season of Advent drew me in in such a different way. The senses that it stimulated were quieter and gentler and called me to reflection, solemnity, humility, and even lowliness. I began to study and ruminate more on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. What that must have really felt like and, with all of its fear, exhaustion, and uncertainty, how absolutely human it all was. Author John Pavlovitz puts this better than I could ever hope to: “There is a beauty in trying to see these accounts from the ground level, to imagine how they looked and felt from the low places of people’s ordinary lives. We remember that this is the story of an olive-skinned baby, born amid the smell of damp straw and animal dung because no human-worthy welcome could be found; of a child of young Palestinian Jewish parents, desperately fleeing politically ordered genocide.”
Christmas and Advent. I love the contrast. In many ways, it mirrors what our own lives look like most of the time. On the one hand, filled to abundance with merriment and light and peace. And on the other hand, seized by the harder, more wearisome, more complex things of life.
And through every season, we have the abiding and constant presence of Jesus. This holy child who would impart to us hope and light, who would teach us the ways of peace and love and grace, who would come bearing on His wings healing and mercy and justice. And who would offer us the blessed assurance that through it all, He is Emmanuel – God with us.
“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20