My husband carried the tree into the house, and – like magic – it felt like Christmas. We gingerly carried the massive evergreen through the house, my children jumping up and down as pine needles dripped to the floor.
Just like that, we began playing our favorite Christmas albums, stringing up lights, opening boxes of precious ornaments. Everything smelled like spruce and hot chocolate, of course.
My son was too excited to sleep. In his soft jammies, he curled into my lap. “Can I play in the snow first thing when I wake up tomorrow?” he implored, wide-eyed.
Oh, sweet honey. The current temperature was 50 degrees. The forecast for tomorrow? More of the same.
Even in Chicago we can’t produce a white Christmas on demand. When I explained that Christmas trees don’t come with a same-day-snow-fall guarantee, he burst into tears.
Truth be told, Christmas itself is a long way off. Advent is a time of waiting in the dark, of holding on to hope – one tiny candle at a time.
Our world is groaning. Real groaning. We feel it every time we scroll through social media or turn on the news. It’s hope we’re aching for. The kind that digs deep and uproots all the hate and injustice and pain. My family is waiting and hoping. My community is longing. Our country is groaning. The whole earth is yearning for relief. For hope, peace, joy and love.
My thoughts turn to Mary in these dark waiting days. What was that first Advent like for her? Waiting for a long, hard journey (while nine months pregnant!) to end. Waiting for her firstborn. Waiting to see what this year of wonders would produce; what the rest of her life would be. Waiting to understand the inexplicable.
All of Israel – all of Creation – had waited for the Messiah. Every woman yearning to be the blessed one. But actually being the chosen one is never as romantic as it sounds. Living as an un-wed mother is not easy, even less so in Mary’s time. Every step toward Bethlehem (one hand supporting a bulging belly) must have reminded her how hard it is to give birth away from home. Mary, the blessed one, knowing every bit how heavy the burden of hope can be.
So often, even when the waiting ends, what we hoped for comes in a way we didn’t expect, would never have asked for. The new relationship, job, house, baby, opportunity is never the happy ending, but another step in this journey of joy and suffering all tangled up together. So often, the waiting and hoping gives birth not to a happily ever after, but a brand new set of reasons to throw ourselves at the feet of God.
But that’s a good place to be. He is the one who has promised to bring full redemption. And he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23b)
A few weeks after our house turned magically into Christmas, I woke at dawn to the sound of small feet and voices. Peeking into my children’s room, I suggested they pull back the curtains and look out the window.
All three stopped in their tracks and raced to the glass. With bright faces reflecting the wonder of softly fallen snow, my son yelped for joy. “Let’s call Santa and tell him!” he shouted.
When I left the house that morning, I turned and saw him, still jumping up and down at the window, still beaming.
In a world full of long waits and heavy hopes, there will always be the joy of my small son, gratefully receiving the gift of snow.
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)
Catherine McNiel survived her children’s preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open the eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden.