You Are Someone’s Advent

Advent is upon us again. I used to feel like I wasn’t ready each year as Advent rolled around. I would lament not being more prepared, or more anticipatory. I always felt like it was sneaking up on me and that there was some kind of indictment in not being ready. This year feels different. I still feel surprised, and not particularly ready but I don’t feel the indictment. It seems there’s permission to let the season unfold around me and receive it. To simply be present to this arrival.

This year my family and I suffered three consecutive traumas in March, April, and July. They stacked on top of each other like a bad car wreck pile up. We were wrecked by grief and disease. With a bit of time passed, I can say the grief of the loss of two pregnancies is more of an ache and less of a knife. Medicine has mitigated most of the effects of my husband’s disease. We are not so fractured.

But we are different. We don’t have space or even imagination to focus on things we don’t deeply care about. It’s as if grief constricts our capacity as it expands our willingness to risk. Those people we don’t know so well? Let’s invite them over. That person who’s hurting? Let’s write a letter. I don’t have a picture of our family at Thanksgiving, or one from when we got our Christmas tree. But I’ve gotten to spend time with people who remind me who I am. I’ve gotten to be generous with my grief and see that not every tear is just for me. I didn’t want this year. I would never have imagined my thirty-first year could hold so much suffering. Yet these things came. They came without warning. I was not prepared. They surprised me.

My theory is Advent feels different this year because I don’t have the energy to perpetuate the old indictments. They seem weak in the face of what I have endured. So instead I get this chance to be unprepared, to be surprised by an arrival that is not trauma, but a response to trauma. Beauty is unfolding around me as I consider this waiting for God to be with us not for no reason, but to be with us because the world is breaking. The coming of Emanuel is how God chooses to engage with our trauma, our distress, our need. God comes to be with. To be in the midst. When I think of the people who chose to be with me over this year, those who did not keep a safe distance, or offer platitudes, but actually were with me in the midst, I realize what we need is the presence of one who will be with us. So often God with us is our neighbor with us.

So yes, we wait. We look to the heavens. We long for Emanuel. We ache for the broken pieces to go back together. And, yet in the midst of it all, we have this opportunity to be the advent of goodness, of kindness, of compassion for our neighbor. Just as people offered me presence this year, I can offer presence. When I pondered what I would most want to say about Advent, I decided what I most want to say is that you are someone’s advent. “Avent” is defined as the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. You are someone’s advent. You have the ability to show up in someone’s life and see them. Be with them. Offer your presence. Your humanity is what the world yearns for; after all, humanity was God’s answer to how to mend the world. Emanuel. God with us.