A dear friend of mine gave my family an Advent calendar five years ago. It is a special delight, this calendar, with its tiny little cabinets storing various characters of the Nativity scene. Grasping the tiny nob on the tiny doors to pull out a sheep or an angel and then carefully hanging that sheep or angel on the proper hook in the provided Nativity background is an extraordinary tactile and visual experience for my children. We have four of them, so the excitement bounces and rebounds off each of them as we gather around the calendar to remind ourselves of Advent and the “real meaning of Christmas.”
So you can just imagine the sweetness of the scene, right? Fire in the fireplace / holiday tunes on the iPod / cute little kids adorned in soft, fuzzy pajamas / my wife in a warm sweater and still sporting that scarf that matches her enormous brown eyes / me tenderly explaining the prophetic voices in Israel’s past, summoning hope that had reached a fevered pitch by the time Caesar made census plans / my wife and I tag-teaming the questions about who “Caesar” was or what a “census” does—this is a family holiday scene, merry and adorable.
Except that this is not really how it works.
Now, to be sure, the kids are all cute in soft, fuzzy pajamas, and my wife is looking great in her new scarves she bought for this northern England wintry weather. But to begin with, it is really hard to get all six of us in the same place at the same time. Our house is quite small, so we are never far away, but washing dishes, changing diapers, playing with Star Wars toys, doing long divisions homework, coloring a landscape scene with aliens and bad guys—all these activities are hard to draw away from for a ceremonial five minutes before the Advent calendar. And then we seem to never remember exactly whose turn it is to put the Advent character onto the Nativity scene. Maybe we skipped someone’s turn because they were having a bad attitude, and that threw us off a bit… who knows. But every kid knows it is really their turn, not their siblings turn. And they each remember perfectly who went the night before, though each of them always supplies a differing report in spite of the perfection of their memories. And then a fight breaks out, someone indignantly puffing about how so-and-so got to go first this year and they also got to go first last year and how so-and-so’s placement in the rotation will have them getting to open up baby Jesus on December 24, which is most unjust and unfair, the only sensible and fair and just option being that the one with the complaint gets to open the cabinet with baby Jesus. All this fighting over baby Jesus goes on while “Joy to the World” sounds out through the Bose in the other room. And so I get annoyed and start fussing at any little voice that barks with self-assertions over whose turn it is or is not while holding one child who is crying with hurt feelings and trying in between my irritable disciplinary orders to talk about the role of shepherds in the ancient world and how Mary and Joseph must have felt so frightened though excited after those angelic encounters, all over the sound of at least one kid crying.
Merry Christmas, ho ho ho, and peace on earth.
So maybe not every night goes exactly like the one I just described above. But many of them do. Now my kids are all super awesome and the oldest ones who can understand the story truly do love Jesus. And even though I get irritable, I really love Jesus, too… at least I am certainly enamored with Him and I want to love Him more. But all that family ruckus seems like a terrible and dishonorable way to celebrate Advent.
Then again, our ridiculous familial strife around the cute little Advent calendar perfectly illustrates why we need Advent.
Fighting over whose turn it is to open the little cabinet with baby Jesus shows just how badly we needed baby Jesus to come.
The Nativity scene reminds us of what happened on the first Christmas. The quarreling scene reminds us of why it had to happen.
Whether chestnuts are roasting on your open fire or whether there are fiery tempers ablaze amidst family members, both can drive us into gratitude for the coming of Jesus. The sweetness of the holidays can help us rejoice in Christ’s coming. The ugliness of the holidays can remind us of why He came.
Advent blessings, to you and yours….