This Christmas season was going to be different.
I entered Advent with a spirit of hope and good intentions, expecting it to carry me to January 6, to Epiphany. Candles would remain lit, trees with twinkling lights would hold their places in our home, and the beautiful Advent readings would keep us focused on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, right through the twelves days of Christmas.
About the same time our Christmas leftovers ran out, so did my spirit of hope.
So this weekend, smack-dab in the middle of Advent, I defrocked the house of Christmas. The artificial trees are bare and tucked away and the big white nativity scene is back in its plastic tub. Garlands and window decorations have been boxed and holiday napkins are stored in the cupboard for another year. The book of Advent readings has been shelved.
I’m both sad and relieved to see our house emptied of Christmas.
After the year we’ve had as a family, I craved the joy, the quiet, and the goodwill of the Christmas season. I didn’t want it come to a screeching halt a day or two after Christmas because I believed the beauty and symbolism of Epiphany could rescue us from a difficult 2016 and usher in a brand-spanking-new 2017.
But you can’t close the door on loss, pain, fear, sadness or illness just because it’s Christmas. There aren’t enough twinkling lights and garlands of evergreen to camouflage what’s resting in your soul, even when Advent is on your doorstep.
Don’t get me wrong — Christmas was good. We celebrated the birth of Jesus in our own fashion. Even with parts of our family missing on Christmas Day, and those other hard things hovering in the background, we feasted and gifted and enjoyed one another.
The reality is that once the Christmas music ended and the post-Christmas sales and holiday parties wound down, our day-to-day lives demanded attention.
I haven’t abandoned hope. It’s just lost some of its glow.
Stepping into the new year, I’m facing down the hard stuff, but still craving the promise of Advent. Though it no longer looks like Christmas around here, there is still some lingering essence of the season.
The historical and sacred Epiphany marks the visit to baby Jesus by the Magi. In the Greek, Epiphany means “manifestation”, the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ.
Climbing the hills behind our house on New Year’s Day, ducking through the naked trees, I had a personal epiphany: God is no less manifest in the hard-scrabble brokenness of our everyday than he is in the humanity of his son, Jesus. Yes, God is revealed in His son and celebrated in the sacred of liturgy and tradition. But he’s also present in the struggle. If anything, he’s more manifest — more clearly revealed — in the struggle.
In her book “The Broken Way”, author Ann Voskamp has much to say about how brokenness makes room for goodness and sheds light on heroes:
“Grace can strike when you are in great pain and light you with the greatest hope.”
And grace gives space for healing to begin and for hope to be restored. Maybe I had to clear away my symbols of Christmas to create space for a return to the hope of God incarnate.
But, in packing up Christmas, I couldn’t bring myself to put away my favorite nativity scene, the one I’ve had for three decades, figures collected piece by piece when our children were small. The Magi are already standing there, in awe of Jesus.
Evidence of the manifest God we need right now, in the brokenness of everyday, isn’t found only in a date on the calendar or a tradition, in decorations or celebrations. The God of grace and mercy and healing is revealed when we pick up the hard things and carry on because……hope.