The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Yet-to-Come rob us of the true mystery of the Incarnation: God is with us, here and now.
Time flies whether you're having fun or not. And winter seems to come earlier every year. Thanksgiving is already here and Christmas will be sooner than we expect. I'm not sure why it feels as if the calendar is spinning, but I'm dizzy.
Usually, the trimmings and tree put a smile on my face. But I can't say I'm looking forward to decorating for Christmas this year. I think it's because all the struggles of the past year have me and everyone else in our house too exhausted to celebrate the holidays at full tilt.
Still, the more I think about simplifying and scaling back, the more I'm convinced that I'll probably end up dragging every last shiny thing out of the garage and putting it up before Dec. 24. I'll do it first because I won't be able to live with the guilt of not doing it. But if I'm attentive and just a little patient with myself, there's a good chance I'll find enough joy along the way to make me glad to have done it after all.
Keeping our balance in the push and pull of the season isn't easy. We all want to create special memories, enjoy the company of family and friends, and experience a least a little Christmas magic. That's why a lot of us choose to get a jump on it all and start working on Christmas as soon as the leftover turkey is Zip Locked and in the fridge. Or well before.
Rushing into Christmas, however, is precisely how we end up losing both its meaning and its joy. Christmas comes deepest and best when we are living at a pace slow enough to breathe it in. And practically nobody lives that way anymore.
I think the secret is not to look forward so much that you lose your place in the present moment. But there is also a need to distance ourselves from the cobwebs or nostalgia of years gone by. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Yet-to-Come rob us of the true mystery of the Incarnation: God is with us, here and now.
By faith, we know that God is with us when we least feel his presence; when things are difficult, when hope fades; when questions have no satisfying answers. God is with us when we are wronged and when we do wrong. He does not come to condemn us, but to save.
With Advent, the cycle of Christ's life that never ends begins again. It begins small, unnoticed, hidden in a virgin's womb. And that is how all the greatest of God's blessings begin. They are rarely public events accompanied by trumpet blasts. More often than not they live and move and grow unseen and unannounced. This year, I am grateful simply for having made it to the brink of another Christmas. The climb has not been easy. But as difficult as life can be, one thing is clear: life itself is pure gift.
Advent is, in one sense, a metaphor for all earthly life. We are told to prepare our hearts and invited to wait with both patience and great anticipation. We don't fully comprehend what we are waiting for, but are utterly convinced that it is greater and more wonderful that anything we can imagine. We celebrate and decorate, orchestrate and plan. We make plenty of missteps along the way, but we do what we can to stay on the path. Most of all, we keep walking. We take one step and then another toward the distant light, especially when we are enveloped by dark and gloom. We believe that the light will lead us, onward, upward, homeward. And we know that it will all be worth the struggle and the wait.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.