As in years past, this Advent has been filled with imperfection and failed expectations. I never did finish – or even start, for that matter – many of the “homemade” gifts I intended to give.
The family Christmas letter I pride myself on writing every year once again found its way into the mailbox much later than I would've hoped, despite my most hopeful efforts to not be rushing to get it out before Christmas Eve.
I used a credit card to purchase a couple gifts this year even though I knew it was a bad idea.
I fell days behind on my Christmas Scripture Writings – multiple times.
Nights came and went when I realized after tucking the kids into bed that we had again forgotten or ran out of time for their nightly Advent story.
And baby Jesus has been in the manger for weeks already.
I'm guessing I had you up until that last statement. Allow me to explain:
One of my clearest and dearest memories of Christmas as a child revolves around my mom's nativity set. Simple yet beautiful, it sat on the floor underneath our tree every year. The manger, however, was one of those two-piece figurines which enabled baby Jesus to be removed from the scene. So the manger itself would sit empty, all throughout Advent. Then on Christmas Eve, after returning home from singing our hearts out at our Christmas program at church, whomsoever year it was to have the honor would place baby Jesus in His lowly manger between Mary and Joseph. That's how you knew Christmas had really arrived.
As an adult with children of my own now, there are many traditions such as this one which I try to re-create with my family. Knowing the impact that small gesture had on me as a child makes me crave that for my own kids.
So I now have a nativity with a baby Jesus separate from the manger.
Only it's not going quite as I had planned. And I'm learning.
I put out our nativity set not long after Thanksgiving – Mary, Joseph, a shepherd or two, even a donkey and a cow. But baby Jesus I kept hidden away, intending to wrap Him up and present it as the first gift the kids would open on Christmas morning.
But my boys wouldn't have it.
After carefully arranging the nativity (sans the baby) and walking away, my two-year old twin sons promptly scurried over and began pointing. And not a simple point of curiosity. This kind of pointing meant something was seriously wrong.
Where is the baby? they seemed to say. Aren't you forgetting something?
As I returned to the scene, I began attempting to explain that it was not yet Christmas and that we needed to wait for the baby to arrive. Wait.
But again, there was no reasoning to be done.
I watched as those boys stood there, in front of the stable and Mary and Joseph. Waiting. Wondering. Wanting. They would not tire. They would not concede.
It wasn't until I finally placed the baby figurine in its rightful place that the boys moved on to something else. Once the baby was in His bed, all was right with the world and the two could go back to playing.
But I remained, crouched in front of a 2-inch baby, with tears in my eyes.
My boys would not leave until the Christ child arrived.
Granted their fascination most likely had more to do with their recent obsession with babies than their knowledge of who that baby really represents, but I still couldn't help but feel God's tug at my heart through the actions of my boys.
After all, isn't that how we all should feel? We simply cannot move on until we know that Jesus has arrived?
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. And yes, there are many things which I feel are “undone” or incomplete. I also know that tomorrow and Christmas Day itself will come and go and with it, a slight feeling of disappointment and let down will follow. A let down that will inevitably make me wonder what was the point of putting up all of the decorations just to take them down or serving a Christmas meal which I knew none of the kids would have any interest in eating?
But the truth is that if our Advents were perfect and our Christmases pure magic, Christ's birth would mean nothing. Our Heavenly Father's almighty plan is necessary because of the imperfections within and around us with the baby in the manger at its center.
Maybe next year I'll be able to explain my “plan” to the boys clearly enough that they'll let me get away with an empty manger through Advent. Or maybe they won't. Or maybe I'll just not be able to wait and have to place Him there for my own benefit after learning so much through watching my boys. But regardless of where the baby ends up for those three weeks prior to Christmas, I know one thing for certain: I'll be anxiously awaiting His return!
Come, O long-expected Jesus, Born to set your people free; From our fears and sins release us By your death on Calvary. Israel's strength and consolation, Hope to all the earth impart, dear desire of ev'ry nation, Joy of ev'ry longing heart.
Born your people to deliver, Born a child and yet a king; Born to reign in us forever, Now your gracious kingdom bring. By your own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone; By your all-sufficient merit Raise us to your glorious throne.
~Hymn #22 in Lutheran Worship, 1st published in 1835