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Advent

November 21, 2008

When I was growing up, my family celebrated Advent, lighting the advent wreath candles and sitting around the wreath for devotions and family prayer.  Candles were special then, part of celebratory holiday dinners, things that came out for birthdays and for the holiday season.  Candles are still special to me, but I indulge in them more than my family ever did.  I can (and do) light them whenever I want, and these small acts of lighting up the darkness are sometimes comforting when not much else is.

The holiday season is already hard for me, for us.  The anticipation of Thanksgiving, which many months ago we thought would be so much happier, is partly full of dread, and partly full of resentment.  You want me to be thankful? Really?  Because it could be worse, can always be worse, but it could also be better, so much better.  I am thankful for things I didn’t want to be thankful for.  That we have health insurance that’s covering more than I’d thought, that the kind woman at the funeral home finally found Teddy’s death certificate for us, that we aren’t heading off to the family Thanksgiving at our in-laws’ with their brand new nursery for their expected baby boy.  My thanks are real this year, but bitter.  I resent them.

And Christmas – an entire holiday wrapped up in the birth of a baby.  So in addition to all of the “you will be happy” lights and media and music of the season, and the reminder that there won’t be any “baby’s first Christmas” experiences, ornaments, or outings for us, there are going to be little Jesuses everywhere.  I already hate thinking of how that will feel, of how it will feel to me to be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a jealous step-sister during this time of year I’ve loved so much in the past.  And I’m not at peace with God yet, not especially interested in the deeper meaning of the holiday, the meaning I’ve been taught to treasure from my childhood.  If we stay home with a freezer stocked full of Ben & Jerry’s, maybe we can numb ourselves into a sugar coma until it’s all over.

Advent, though, resonates with me this year.  Advent wreaths, in some incarnation, have been around for a long time.  Before Christianity reached Europe, people would light candles placed around wreathes and wheels as signs of hope that the dark days (and northern Scandinavia can get very dark in the winter) would end, that light was coming.

This is an old, old hope, from days when babies and mamas died often, from days when a really bad winter could destroy you utterly.  This year, I connect with that so very strongly.  Here I sit in the dark, lighting candles in the hope that a greater light is coming, in the hope that there might be joy and warmth and comfort in the days to come.

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3 comments

  1. This is beautiful, Erica, truly. “My thanks are real this year, but bitter. I resent them.” I feel you… I feel the same way. I am deeply thankful to have known Tikva, been able to love her for her short life. But that is such bittersweet gratitude. Keep lighting as many candles as you need. We light them every Friday for the Sabbath, and now have added a third candle, our Tikva candle. I see us doing this for the rest of our days…


  2. I hope this for you too, Erica. I hope it for all of us here.


  3. Advent took on a whole new level of significance for me after our babies deaths. You know, historically, Advent was intended to be a time much more similar to Lent. A time of fasting, contemplation, repentance, renewal… It’s really supposed to be a much darker season than what it has become in our culture. I have tried to recover some of its original meaning in my own celebration of Advent.

    It also helped me to think of the Christmas story as a whole in its true light. Jesus came in a very dark period of human history. People were suffering, struggling and hopeless. For me, the entire Christmas story centers around the idea that God can bring light even into the darkest of all places.

    I will be praying you see some glimmers of light throughout these difficult seasons. And I will also pray that you are allowed to get through these days ahead in whatever way brings you the most peace. May everyone around you be gentle.



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