As much as I love Christmas, I feel like I often miss it.
I put up the tree, go to the parties, give (and receive) the gifts, sing the carols, read the Bible story. None of these activities are bad, but they don’t fully encapsulate why I’m supposed to be celebrating Christmas.
This year I’m not putting up my regular full-size tree due to Complicated Reasons, and though the first time I put up my tree by myself I nearly had an existential crisis, I’ve now grown to enjoy my solo little ritual. Putting up a couple of small trees didn’t pack quite the same punch, and I’m mourning my big tree a bit. It feels like I’m already starting at a deficit of Christmas Spirit.
On top of that, life has simply felt more messy than usual lately. I keep thinking I’ll get this Adulthood thing figured out one of these days, which keeps on very much not happening.
Plus there’s the sorting and the waiting and the I don’t know-ness of faith in general, and suddenly Christmas is carrying a lot of weight.
Last week, Addie Zierman wrote about the idea of an Advent Junk Journal. It’s a ragtag collection of whatever paper-like materials that happen to be around, all bound together. And there, in those messy, imperfect pages, is the space to notice. It’s not the pressure of reading chapters and chapters of the Bible each day, or praying a certain number of minutes, or any other obligations besides to see where God already is. Which is, right now, something I need reminders to do.
He’s there, I believe that, but I’m not always paying attention for it.
As Addie explains it:
There are a thousand ways to encounter God, to experience the hard beauty of Advent, and what I’ve discovered is that more than spending hours reading and praying and journaling — it’s just catching one minute. Capturing one small incandescent bit of beauty falling like a snowflake. To jot it down before it disappears.
In college, one of my professors gifted me the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It has become one of my most beloved parts of this season–I eagerly await November 24, when the readings begin. Not all of the readings strike me, but some leave me nearly in tears, underlining and starring and scribbling in the margins year after year. The other day, I wrote “My life in 2015” next to a line from a Henri Nouwen essay.
For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.
He gets me.
And that book title.
Watch for the Light.
It’s what I’m trying so very hard to do this year. I wrote it on the front of my Advent junk journal, stealing the book’s title as the subtitle for my own scribbled words. It is both a gentle reminder as well as a command. Do this I’m telling myself.
The same professor who gifted me the book is the one who introduced me to the idea of a commonplace book, assigning the seemingly simple act of paying attention to our own lives.
No one is giving me a grade these days, but I’m giving myself the same assignment this Advent: Pay attention.
Each day, I’ll write at least one thing I noticed. Today it was lyrics to a pop song I heard on the radio on my drive home from work, because I’m in love with the idea of common grace and that glimmers of God hide in all things that are true and lovely and beautiful. Yesterday it was lines from a reflection in a Bible app. They’re written on receipts, cupcake wrappers, scraps of paper loosely held together with a length of plastic cord. Everything about my journal is mismatched and motley, which feels like a pretty good metaphor for life.
But I’m committing to this seemingly small act these next few weeks: Watch for the light.
Til next time…
p.s. How are you watching for the light this Advent?