AM Psalm 40, 54; PM Psalm 51
Isa. 10:5-19; 2 Pet. 2:17-22; Matt. 11:2-15
Last year was my first Advent. You may be wondering how I managed to miss the first 41 which I surely must have lived through. I come from a church tradition that considered the observance of Advent (and other “Catholic” things suchas Lent, Pentecost, Epiphany, etc.) to be not just unnecessary, but bordering on sinful. So really, I barely even knew what those things are. I knew Advent Calendars were things that people who weren’t Christians had in their houses, and that behind each little window on the calendar was a little present, like a sticker or a dollar.
For me, the days leading up to Christmas were a time of begging for presents while financially challenged parents desperately tried to remind me that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, not a new Shaun Cassidy album.
After I got married, things went a little over the top. Now there were step-children, and a Dad with almost unlimited financial resources. That meant shopping incessantly. At the mall, on-line, in New York. It was exhausting. And did I mention decorating a 12 foot tree? Oh, and the Christmas party for 100 of our closest friends and family, with catering and a super-stocked bar. Then days of wrapping mountains of gifts on my knees in my art studio where we hid Gift Mountain. My muscles ached, and my head was still reeling, because I needed to get gifts for my beloved, The Man Who Has Everything. I was almost unhinged by the stress of having to think of something he didn’t already have (and probably had a better one than I could have come up with). This generally resulted in my feeling like a big fat failure as year-after-year the useless gadgets and Big Boy Toys piled up in the storage areas.
Because of the custody arrangement, we celebrated Christmas Eve on Christmas Eve Eve. A big holiday supper with all the trimmings. Then in the morning we’d watch (and video-tape) the unwrapping. The kids were full of joy, but in the weeks after Christmas we’d discover their gifts untouched in piles in their bedrooms,and feel like we got it all wrong. After the Great Unwrapping, there were pancakes (yay) and a big Christmas dinner. Then the kids went home to their Mom, and the house was full of emptiness.
The next morning was Christmas for real, and Kevin and I opened our presents to each other. This part was full of mixed emotions as I agonized over whether Kevin really liked his under-water-remote-control-speed-boat-car-helicopter-stereo, and I opened the most amazing treasures I’d ever seen. Kevin is an amazing giver! But knowing Kevin, even if there was no such thing as Christmas, he’d have found other reasons to shower me with jewels and furs and designer bags. With Kevin, I was liable to get a present for Veterans’ Day (a very nice aspect of being married to Kevin!). Then one week of mess and peace, followed by the Great Undecorating. That took a few days. Then, finally, Peace. Relief. Rest. Praise God for January!
Last year things were different. We were flat broke. Kevin painted beautiful portraits of his children to give them, and we knew we couldn’t exchange gifts at all. We were too worried and depressed to decorate. But now we were going to All Saints, and they observe Advent. So why not? We went to the Advent Wreathbuilding event at Trinity School, and built our first wreath. It was so beautiful. We decided then and there that that would be our whole Christmas. We lit the candles. We prayed. We read. That was it. No presents, no tree, no party, didn’t even send out cards.
I loved last Christmas.