2020 has been the year where nothing has gone according to plan or expectation. I literally brought in this year throwing up. The moment we turned the corner from 2019 on New Year’s Eve at midnight into 2020, I knew something was wrong as my insides were wrenched by a stomach bug that kept me up the entire night. Even in that awful night of relentless sickness, I felt Jesus close, almost as if His hand was purging me for love’s sake.
The year continued to rebel, not just against me and my best-laid plans, but it seemed to rebel against humanity. Even still, in the midst of the trials we faced with the pandemic, quarantining, division, strife, injustice, riots, more division, shortages, school and business closures, an entire world suddenly hurled into homeschool or Zoom school, election tension, even more division... I think even in it all there has been a loving Hand ready to purge us of what ills us if we are willing.
Every December my family has engaged in some form of Advent, which is basically the active, intentional waiting on Jesus and the preparing of our hearts throughout the month leading up to Christmas. Some years I have written daily simple poetic verses to lead us into activities that would help us ponder greater themes. Some years we have used Advent devotionals or sat in the living room every night to hear Matt read a birth-of-Jesus-themed novel. It looks different each year, but always it points to Christ. This year, we didn’t get our act together in time for Advent—it was halfway into December when I finally had the wherewithal to even give it a thought. The temptation was to say, “We missed it, Advent should have started two weeks ago, I guess this year we will just skip it.” But I knew that we would be missing something. It has been such a way to anchor our family in the midst of a season that otherwise can get swept away in the busyness and in the to-dos.
Like so much else this year, I set aside my expectations of what it should look like or has looked like in years past, and we dove into our two-week Messy Advent. There was no pretty wreath—rather, I grabbed five mismatched candles from around the house to use. There was no eye-catching Jesse Tree or Advent wall with which to display the daily theme or activity. I scribbled our activities on whatever paper was around and threw them into a Christmas box every day. Some days we missed doing Advent altogether. But mostly, our messy Advent was just. what. our. bleeding. hearts. needed.
We would gather in our living room around our not perfect tree (I like a tree that looks like kids had a good hand in decorating it). We would pray and invite the Divine into our mortal hearts. Matt would read some from a little book I found on our bookshelf that we had never read: it was a narrative of the story of Mary and Joseph and their trek to Bethlehem leading up to Christ’s birth, published in 1906. Then we would sing a Christmas hymn, the kids would take turns pulling a piece of paper out from a jar full of prophecies about Christ written hundreds of years before He came and would read one and its fulfillment out loud. Then Matt would say a blessing and we would do our activity. Depending on the day, this could be anything from taking five minutes to pray for someone who is hurting to an hours-long family outing to the ice skating rink.
This thrown-together, messy, imperfect Advent seemed perfect for 2020. When we watched The Nativity Story on Christmas Eve and saw a very young Jewish woman ostracized by her family and friends and community because they understandably thought she had been unchaste—pregnant and not yet married, unthinkable in that time and culture—and all because she said “yes” to God, the messiness of it all overwhelmed me. God chose to come this way, He chose to let a pure woman be seen as impure. Even if a chosen few understood (Elizabeth, eventually Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds) many did not understand and God was fine to let that be.
2020 has taught me to look to God and ask Him what He is doing, or wants to do, through my circumstances—messy or neat. It has reminded me that God’s kingdom runs upside down to this earthly one—He will not be boxed in by our expectations or human traditions. He will shake what can be shaken, and purge what needs to be purged, including our mortal understanding. Unto our own good. Because of Love.
Even though I absolutely hated throwing up throughout the night exactly one year ago, I knew my body was designed to get rid of that which was toxic inside of me. I think in some ways the Church, the Body of Christ, has had some toxic build-up and we’ve needed some purging. In many ways this year has felt like that process. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not something we want to avoid. We want to let Him sift and purge and get us on the other side of wholeness.
May I look to Him in all my ways, and trust not in my own finite understanding. May I be like Mary, who said, “be it unto me, Lord, just as you have said.” Blessed is she who believes and receives what He gives, even when His gifts come with discomfort or pain.