As Advent settles upon us, stirring up the ashes of the year, I’ve become aware that I’m a bit numb to it all this year. I’m realizing that I’ve spent the fall in survival mode. My life took a sudden turn at the end of August when I took on a new job as a high school teacher, took on the job of not only teaching but also knowing and caring for 100 students. I also started helping out at the local animal shelter, playing with and comforting scared and sad dogs in their cement kennels. Further, my dad was admitted to the hospital again as a result of diabetes complications and self-neglect; this time his lower leg was amputated and now he lies in a nursing home, recovering. Add to that the burdens I carry for friends and their personal tragedies and struggles, and I’ve got so much on my emotional plate that I’ve started to become numb, for the simple sake of survival.
But during Advent, I can take a few moments and let myself feel again. I can realize that, wow, life is hard and people are awful sometimes, and this world disappoints and punishes and deals unfairly with people. Writer Loretta Ross-Gotta comments, “We think we have to make Christmas come, which is to say we think we have to bring about the redemption of the universe on our own.” Perhaps that’s why I’ve emotionally shut down. Without realizing it, I’ve been feeling the burden of bringing about the redemption of the world—of my dad, who’s hurt me and disappointed me for 30 years and is now a bundle of needs; of the pups at the shelter, abandoned and needing love and homes; of my students, so many of whom are lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd.
At Advent we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, Ross-Gotta points out, had nothing to offer but “space, love, belief.” Like the Magi, we have our gifts to offer to God as he works to redeem the world, but they have their limits, and in the end, Ross-Gotta says, it is the one who “makes a sanctuary of her life, who delivers Christ who then delivers us.”
How can I make a sanctuary of my life this Advent? How can I release my grip on the redemption of the world, sit back and wait for it to be born in darkness, as Jesus was at his first coming? Can I make time, among all the going to and fro and helping and working, to sit and reflect on the idea that the one who redeems has come and will come again? That Christ was born and God is with us? Only in the quiet moments, stolen from our existence as saviors and martyrs for our families and friends and the world, can we open ourselves to Advent and all it means: it’s not up to us; it’s not about fullness and distraction but about emptying ourselves and quieting down enough to be available, as Mary was when the angel announced to her the role she would play in the redemption of the world.
This Christmas, Ross-Gotta writes, “what if, instead of doing something, we were to be something special? Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.”