Sunday, December 02, 2018

First Sunday: Hope

And Advent begins.

I love Advent, both in the more-secular sense of "the run-up to the Christmas season" but also in the, as I said earlier, "Lent-lite" idea - that we are to make our hearts and minds ready once again for the birth of the Babe.

A big part of the reason I love it is the feeling of continuity. The world's in a mess (but it's always been in a mess), but look, here's the Advent wreath again, and we light the first purple candle. And there are the familiar readings. And the familiar songs. (We actually sing Christmas carols - we sang "Joy to the World" this morning - I know some congregations save those until right at Christmas).

And I admit, also, I feel a sense of....relief is perhaps the best word. Relief that I am getting to do this again, relief at the very tangible reminder that yes, love will win out over hate, love has already won out over hate. That things will be set right some day, and that even if the world is going to Hell, we don't have to go with it. (That we can resist: we can resist the ugliness and the meanness and the venality and the greed).

The minister referred to how Advent was really "counter-cultural" and yes, I can see that: instead of the avaricious run-up where you're told to buy your lover a car, or expensive jewelry, or the latest electronics, Advent instead focuses us elsewhere, reminds us the presents aren't really the POINT here.

(Heh. The large Christmas tree was not lit - as it turns out, there's something wrong with the lights and the one guy with technical knowledge of how to fix it is working on it - but I saw it and thought, "Aha, they're doing the Real Advent thing by not lighting the tree" until the minister made a joke about it)

But anyway. I do admit the older I get I like the more counter-cultural idea of it: that it's more about making ready, and maybe, really, Christmas is more about having a breather, being able to sit down and not DO for a day, but just BE. (Maybe that is the difference about Christmas when you're a kid vs. a mature adult: when you're a kid, it's more about the excitement and the presents and all that, because a lot of the time when you're a kid you're kind of doing fun stuff and maybe don't have too many responsibilities, but as an adult, being able to stop for a day and not really have to do stuff - other than maybe cook a big meal, but at last you don't have to go to work/meetings/commute/whatever, and that's nice)

But there is also a sense of relief. After the lighting of the Advent candle (a different family does it every week), we sang the first verse of this:

(This may be a very Disciples-specific thing; it's in the Chalice Hymnal that was compiled for us, and it has the "feel" of being a Disciples song: the emphasis on justice, for example)

But anyway. We sang the first verse and I felt myself tearing up a little. I do not like crying publicly when I can avoid it and I managed to dry up quickly, but yeah. And I realized: I wasn't sad, it wasn't specifically tears of *happiness* - it was really more tears of *relief.*

Relief that here we are in Advent again. Relief that all the good dear things I love every Advent and Christmas are here again. (And perhaps also: Relief that I can feel happy about things again. There was a period this fall - I don't know if I was too mired in my work or my allergies were really bad or what, but it did feel like, as Ron Weasley once said of the Dementors, "It was as if I'd never be cheerful again")

And I've said before: I can imagine the sense of relief earlier Christians had, especially in harder uglier worse times than these: times of high infant mortality and rampant infectious disease and food shortages and war to remember that there was a life beyond this one, and that there was Someone out there bigger and smarter than we are, and maybe we really don't have to figure it all out on our own.

And yet, there are other, perhaps more personal and more secular reasons for my relief:

A big one is that the semester is nearly over. Last week was a long, long week (I can't quite believe it was only last Sunday that we decorated the church, but it was). Next week I only have a bit more teaching: most of my classes are listening to student final-project presentations. The week after that is finals....and then I get to go to my parents' again, this time for a longer time.

And yes, relief over having two and a half weeks coming up (when I am in Illinois) of really no big expectations on me; mostly what I will be doing will be knitting and crocheting, and hanging out with my parents, and doing Christmas stuff. (If the weather holds, I do plan to take a long walk every day to keep up my fitness but also to air out my mind a little).

And other relief: almost everyone I love and care about is mostly OK after this year. Yes, in the past two years my dad's been in the hospital twice, and late this summer - mid-August - things looked briefly dire with the pneumonia. But he's still here, he's doing better (and as long as he keeps his PT up...) and so he's still here. Other people I care about are mostly OK. (My mom is fine; she goes in for her second cataract-removal tomorrow and I expect that to go as smoothly as the last one. I think of December 2016 when she fell on the ice and I do still shudder a little; how grateful I am she got better). Really, with the exception of a few people from church (the biggest being Steve, because his death was so sudden and unexpected), most of the people I care about are at least doing OK this December, and that's something to be grateful for.

(I suspect some of my distress was a feeling - it started really in 2016 with all the bad budgetary stuff at work, but carried through this year with Steve's sudden death and my dad going into the hospital suddenly, that everything was precarious and that everyone I loved - and everything I loved - could change in an instant, or be taken from me in an instant, and I think that does affect a person badly; my sense of security and that the world was a fundamentally friendly place was badly shaken.)

And just relief in that most of my worries (and I know, I know: many people tell me that if my faith were strong enough I *wouldn't* worry, though I am not sure about that) never came to pass: my university is doing better financially, we're still here, I had mostly-positive interactions with people recently. Maybe I'm doing some good in the world.

And other silly little reliefs: most people who know me seem to like me. Even kids seem to like me - my niece wanted to hang out with me and talk to me and hug me and stuff, and there's a little boy at church who runs up and hugs my leg when he sees me. And as someone who grew up feeling largely unliked by people outside her family (which may have been untrue, but it felt that way to me), it's amazing and sort of humbling to realize there's something about me that people *like.*

And even as Advent is a time to sit back and examine your heart, and maybe do a little spiritual housecleaning, perhaps also, there's nothing wrong with looking at your life and seeing the good things, and feeling grateful for them - and also seeing reasons for hope.

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