Christmas celebrations can’t be over in just one day.
Over each meal, we light the advent candles, last night with my extended family who have been arriving for New Years. While we enjoy hugs, reuniting, and good meals, there are two noticeable absences: my rambunctious, brother-in-law Ozzie died suddenly in May and my older brother and his wife have split.
We acknowledge Ozzie with stories. “He’d totally make fun of you, Troy, for wearing a hat and jacket inside, ‘Ready for an expedition, Nanook?'” I wish we could imitate his laugh. We look at videos from his grandkids, from the moments he would have loved: Davis’ big wipeout while tubing off a jump and Lincoln’s first bday pics.
Our brave friend Lara Hauser, who is a young widow and wonderful mom of four, calls life’s ongoing mix of joy and grief “JoySorrow.” So we tell JoySorrow stories and laugh and cry: at Ozzie’s favorite strategy for staying warm nicknamed “three violent jerks,” at what Christmas has felt like without him for Tam.
We brainstorm a strategy together for introducing 6-year-old Brantley from Florida to snow in the frigid week ahead, “Snow is fun. Cold means fun.” Then cousin Mark calls in from Minnesota, “Toughen him up. Tell him there are no whiners in the North.” If only that was true! We are ready to embrace “BBob”–as the teenaged cousins call him–and his dad in the week ahead with warm love amidst subzero wind chillsand subzero life chills.
This month as I led a congregation through Advent, we realized that God’s big plan to save the world begins with a knocked-up teen and her finance’s considering divorce. With Jesus, born in animal shed, who became a refugee. With foreigners and shepherds who pay attention and look up to see what God is doing through stars and angelic announcements. God works through all these out-of-the-way people in out-of-the-way places to “bring good news of great joy that shall be for all people.” The gospel story certainly relates to life today in our topsy-turvy times. Cary Nieuwhof writes,
“What if your imperfect Christmas is actually a front row seat to God’s grace?….The surprise of Christmas is this: it speaks to us in our weakness even more than it speaks to us in our strength.”
This is how our family life looks right now. This is how our ongoing celebration of Christmas seeps into its grief and reality with hope and love.
As a gift, I give you the words our family has said together since the kids were small as we light our advent candles:
Light the 1st Candle—Purple:
Jesus is our HOPE. Bright HOPE. Stars in the darkness.
Light the 2nd Candle—Blue:
Jesus is our HOPE for PEACE, Kind PEACE. Bridges over broken places.
Light the 3rd Candle—Pink:
Jesus is our JOY. Great JOY. Good news that changes lives.
Light the 4th Candle—Purple:
Jesus is our LOVE. LOVE for everybody. LOVE. There is nothing greater.
Light the CHRIST CANDLE:
Jesus shines in the darkness, Making it LIGHT. Showing us the way to new life, the greatest gift of all.