Kimberly and I have been online friends for a few years, but we met for the first time in person just this October. I’ve recently taken a few friendships from the online world to the real world, and it is always a treat to discover that the person you like from a distance is also completely likeable face to face. But Kimberly? Well, we spent almost the entirety of our first in-person conversation saying, “You too??” We are more alike than I ever would have guessed, and I love knowing that this talented writer and like-minded friend is only a few hours away by car.
And this reflection? Well, this may be Kimberly’s first year observing Advent, but she has captured it beautifully, perfectly.
Here is an Advent treasure.
To Hold Longing
I hand-picked the peeling birch branches we cut off the dying tree in the backyard. They’re white and spare and beautiful. Last Christmas, I hung small white doves from every twig. They sat like tiny messengers delivering a promise of peace for the year to come.
This year, I chose those same spare branches to hang the ornaments for our first Jesse tree. Every day, I look at it, and it feels unfinished, lopsided, undone. I miss the doves with promise caught up in their wings. When I hung them, the look was complete. Instant beauty, strung up and done. Next project, please.
Now, the branches sit waiting for the next reminder, the next piece of the Advent story we string into place each night. My children don’t know what to make of it. We’ve never observed Advent before, and they don’t know exactly where this story and this Jesse tree will lead us.
Over the years, they’ve grown increasingly unaccustomed to waiting. They want insta-Christmas with all of the parties and early gifts and holiday cheer distracting them from the wait for presents on Christmas Day. This year, I want all of us to learn what it feels like to sit with the undone. To hold longing. To wait with anticipation for the next thread woven into Jesus’ story to unravel from the spool.
I don’t know what beauty these threads will weave into place. I know the end result is the Baby, but I don’t know what he will teach me in the waiting. I hope to sit with hands cupped, holding each day and each story lightly, ready to catch and then release them onto what’s left of my backyard tree.
Perhaps this is where the manger always leads us, to the tree where everything that appears unfinished is finally called finished and done. I’m sitting with this promise during Advent, believing that the work of redemption is complete, but knowing I wait still, watching for the final threads of this story, for Kingdom come to unfurl.
After three years spent living in Switzerland, Kimberly Coyle recently relocated with her family to New Jersey. She loves stories, chasing beauty, and grace. Always grace. Connect with Kimberly on her blog or on facebook.
There is Advent on this blog. And there is Advent in my home.
Advent on the blog is, I like to think, serene. Advent at home? Less so.
Here is a confession: I have everything it takes to be a good mother. Unfortunately, those qualities consistently abandon me during the tired edges of the day. Which means I only have what it takes when ¾ of my children are at school, and the last little quarter is asleep in her crib.
Translation: I do not have what it takes.
So far, our family Advent observance has been … impressive. At least, I’ve been impressed. Most nights we have sat down together to light candles and read a devotion. I can’t take the credit. The whole thing is due entirely to the friend (angel, really) who gave us a complete Jesse Tree collection the first Sunday of Advent. We had everything handed to us: beautifully crafted ornaments for each day, a printout of Ann Voskamp’s family devotional (tied up in green silk ribbon), even a large glass vase. We supplied a bare branch from our yard, and we were in business.
But the wait for Christmas is long and heavy, and our observance has cracked a bit around the edges. Well, worse than that, really. I may have exploded one recent evening after yet another argument over who would hang the ornament. I may have called the whole thing off and sent them to bed. One of them crying those enormous, guilt-inducing crocodile tears.
And yet, Monday night somehow found us gathered, again, around our Jesse tree. I wasn’t optimistic. I was tired. When I glimpsed the evening’s reading – 2 ½ pages from the book of I Kings?! From an obscure story about idol worship?! – I panicked.
I was this close to shutting the book up again and announcing a change of plans. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read the whole thing while children fought and pestered me with questions like Who is Baal? What is a prophet? They did what to the animals??
But a fight over who was or was not touching someone’s favorite ornament on the tree threatened to boil over so I did the only thing I could.
I started reading.
Do you know the story?
There is a showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Baal’s followers prepare an altar and a sacrifice. Then they spend hours calling on their god to set the thing on fire. They shout. They dance. They prophesy franticly. They even slash themselves until the blood flows.
Here is the eloquence of Scripture: “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.”
At this point in the reading, I had the full attention of my children. They sat mesmerized. It was as if we could see that frantic, bloody dancing. It was as if we could hear the deafening silence of heaven.
I kept reading.
Elijah sets up the stones and the wood for his own altar. He douses it in water. And more water. There is so much water, and the impossibility is doubled. Tripled.
Elijah prays: “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
We sat – each of us – with eyes large and breath caught – until: the God of Fire came.
He heard. He came. And there was fire.
“The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!”
Making space for God’s presence in my home feels about as back-breaking as hauling stones. My husband and I stack those stones while little people bicker around our ankles. Too often, their bickering is contagious.
I lose my temper. I can’t take even one more thing. Not one more mess. Not one more argument. Until, I have filled our home, our altar of stones, with so much water. An impossible flood of water.
Making space for God’s presence in my home is also a free gift. It is a beautiful and complete family advent collection handed to me by a friend.
It asks nothing of me. Requires nothing of me.
It is an impossible mess, and it is grace, and my children and I have seen fire.
Because God came.
Because God always will come.