Have you noticed the tendency as December wears on for people to replace “how you doing” with a smile and an eager “So, are you ready for Christmas?”
I don’t know if everyone gets this question as much as I do or if it’s a function of having kids in my house that prompts people to ask, but the answer is no. No, I am not ready for Christmas. I do not have stocking stuffers for my kids. I do not have all of their presents bought. We get our kids 3 presents each…and I’m missing 3 of the 12 total gifts.
I don’t have the gifts for our own siblings. And I never did get that personalized Pottery Barn advent calendar hung.
I still need 18 more stamps to send out my Christmas cards. Somehow I totally choked on how many stamps I needed. They come in books of 20. That’s a hard fail right there.
I have not baked Christmas cookies or consistently read from an advent devotional or lit an advent wreath or put lights on our house or even put the cheesy candy cane sidewalk border up. My broken storm door creaks back and forth on my front door in a way that seems better suited as a Halloween decoration than a Christmas one. In fact, there are still pumpkins on the front step, too (although I did throw away the actual jack-o-lantern). So, I’m apparently ready for fall just as winter knocks on the door. Perfect.
I found myself thinking the other day, “you know who I bet really wasn’t ready for Christmas? Mary. The mother of Jesus, Mary. No way she saw that one coming.”
I, for one, was pretty darn shocked by the whole giving birth thing and there’s a pretty slim possibility that any of my kids will wind up crucified for defying an empire.
No, Mary couldn’t possibly have been “ready.” At best she was, maybe…expectantly anxious? Hopefully nervous? Maybe even “ready” for an adventure? Definitely not ready for a life of raising a child she would later see teach a radical message of love, be followed by masses of people and, ultimately, die for those words during just three years of his adult life.
None of us is ever really “ready” for Christmas. To celebrate Christmas…to lean into the idea that there is a God of the universe and that He so wanted to speak to us that he anointed a humbly born baby in the hinterlands of the Roman empire in order to do so…is to accept an invitation to an adventure we can never quite anticipate.
I’m a big fan of adventure–at least in theory. I’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in the elevator, but then walked back down the open-air metal stairs just for the view (and without other tourists.) I’ve blown a down payment for a house on a summer in Europe that I do not regret at all. I’ve sunbathed topless on the French Riviera and stood on the frozen Bering Sea.
That’s the kind of adventure I love–adventures that test me and consume me and make me feel alive. Like I’m not missing a moment of the life I have been granted…like I’m eating the whole apple in one bite.
That’s pretty much my definition of adventure.
Some of my adventures I have chosen. The good ones, usually. But some of them have been thrust upon me. A mentally ill parent. Loving someone as they lost the battle with cancer. My jacked up skeletal system that creates a game of pain-whack-a-mole as I age. Did you know that your pubic bone can make a popping sound? It can. And it’s loud.
My very best adventures to date have been the ones I signed up for, but didn’t really understand when I did so. My marriage. My children.
When my fourth child was born I had chosen to forgo the use of pain medication during the birth. It was rather long and painful contractions happened for over 24 hours before he made his entrance. I worked hard to bring him into the world and in the moment of his birth my midwife asked me if I wanted to deliver him myself. When I said yes she asked for my hands, placed them on his tiny shoulders making their way into the world and let me pull this child from my own body with my own hands.
It was intensely painful…and I have never felt more alive than I did in that moment.
Really, really good adventures are like that. The layers of pain and love and fear and joy and effort and purpose and wonder combine into an overwhelmingly indescribable moment of life well lived.
We learn and we grow. We grieve and we celebrate. We get afraid and then we go ahead anyway.
Our family Christmas card this year says, “Wishing you a year full of love and adventure.” Sure, I’m referencing our travel adventures, but honestly, its more about the adventure of attempting to live on purpose. To live with choices that we make and not places that we “find” ourselves because we weren’t paying enough attention.
It’s about the adventure of trying, in our frail human way, to live a life reflective of the message of love offered by that humbly-born man in that fallen empire so long ago.
I’m well aware that there’s very little possibility that Jesus was born anywhere near when we celebrate his birth. I know that our winter traditions have far more to do with the traditions of the Celtic ancestors our early immigrants brought with them than with the story of Jesus. But they are our traditions and our touchstones and the way in which our culture celebrates something of deep meaning.
I think that one of the reasons so many people feel stressed and worried about being “ready” for Christmas is because we can all feel the march of time breathing down our backs and we worry about frittering it all away. We swing between wanting to put the perfect end mark on another year…another chance to prove we lived and loved well…and the realization that the ways in which we are celebrating aren’t truly all that meaningful at times.
We need to stop being so concerned with being “ready” for Christmas. Anything you can truly be ready for ahead of time is a pale excuse for the celebration of life that Jesus taught us to live. Christmas isn’t the end mark of our year. It’s the beginning, over and over again, of the next adventure.
So for this coming year, for this Christmas, I wish you love. Deep, abiding love that risks so large and so open and so gloriously bright that you can never recover from its loss without the hand of God. For this moment, I wish you adventure so new and so meaningful and so terrifying that you will not ever come back to the exact same place again…because you would not be the same person even if you did so. I wish you life lived bigger and better than you’ve ever imagined before.
And there’s really no way to be ready for that.