Advent has been a little stop-and-go for me. I love Christmas in all its tinseled, theological glory. This year? A blur. I'm pretty sure it's related to expecting a child in early January. Normally, I'd be indulging in crafts, lots of baking, lots of movies. Now, I don't want to be on my feet a lot, the crafts are for the nursery, and I'm too tired from finding great stroller dealers at consignment shops to stay awake for much Dickens or even Chevy Chase.
That, and having an essay deadline hanging over me (essay's not due til the end of January, but since the baby is due before that...must get cracking, and I'm not talking The Nutcracker...). Freelance projects are still popping up, baby shower thank-you notes lie blank and ready to be written, I'm literally months behind on long chats with far-away friends, Christmas cards lie blank and ready to be written, and hey, I still want to bake those Martha Stewart lemon cookies featured in my recent Christmas edition of her excellent magazine. Oh, and I need to add things to my It's Labor Time bag for the hospital. There's a letter of reference to compose, and fabric sitting on the dining room table next to a silent sewing machine. Has the tree been watered recently? Yes, yes, Sweet Husband did that the other day. Did I write the follow-up email to the interview? Yes, yes, I did that the other day. Whoa, but the secondhand dresser for the nursery still needs painted with something that has "cashew" in the name. Dayquil and Nyquil for Sweet Husband? Check. Juice? Check.
When all these thoughts begin to pile up like evil, leering presents under a monstrous, consuming nightmare tree, it's time to step back. If it doesn't get sewn, okay. Daniel Martin Moore's "Christmas Time Is Here" plays in the background. I breathe. If it doesn't get baked, okay. I write long lists to organize my thoughts, my tasks, my emotions. I think about Mary and Joseph and the third trimester trek across rough roads and how she didn't go to childbirth class and I wonder if Joseph delivered Jesus or if some seedy-looking hotel manager's wife cut the umbilical cord. I wonder how much Jesus weighed. I wonder if anyone gave Mary breastfeeding tips, or if she got frustrated and cried against Joseph's shoulder. I hope the shepherds knocked before they came in.
I think that times like these, it's important to step back a bit and consciously adopt a posture of receiving, rather than one of acting. There are times when you build character, and times when you draw on character - and I think, in seasons of fatigue or unexpected limitations, it's important to passively allow God to take you where he will. Overachievers, take note.
Advent is to be received, not performed (pastors - take note). Childbirth will be both acting - hey, there's a reason it's called labor - and receiving - you're receiving this child, this experience, whatever it entails. Jesus' Incarnation was not initiated by humans: that is one of the most important implications of the Virgin Birth. Jesus came, unexpected, uninvited, uncreated.
Receive Christ, then, this season, as you do in Holy Communion. You can put up a tree: you cannot create Christmas. You can get a great deal on The Toy for your kid: you cannot create Christmas. We receive Christmas.
Receive Christ, and the celebration of his birth, this year, and be blessed.