December is often the time of too many events, too many parties, too many obligations, too many gifts and too much family. There are quite a few Decembers in my recent memory where I did too much, slept too little and was worn out or sick by Christmas. The season can be -- if left unchecked -- exhausting rather than exhilarating.
Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent. It is the season that marks the expectation, the waiting and the preparation for Christmas, the celebration of Christ's birth. It also marks the beginning of the church year, when the readings and the rituals observed throughout the year start anew. However, what I like most about this season is the repetition of things past.
It's the repetition of family traditions, small and large, that provides the comfort, reminder and framework to enjoy the season. Spending time with those we love, celebrating the birth of Christ, who provided hope and life to a dark-filled world.
Today we, too, have many reasons to feel dark, to feel overwhelmed, to worry about tomorrow: terrorism, domestic shootings, a stagnant economy and rapidly changing international relations. We do not live in a stable world.
It is in these fluid times that following traditions, routines and rituals can provide the most comfort. They allow us to remain centered and focused while the outside world is churning. They allow us to breathe, relax and appreciate those we love.
These past few years have been fluid, and featured events both joyful and sorrowful for our family. My husband's father passed away this year, joining my mother in heaven. We miss him, my mother and the infamous "Granny" (my husband's maternal grandfather) who passed away four years ago this summer. Our children have gained two cousins, who infect our lives with laughter and energy. Our children have grown in years and maturity, constantly and consistently amazing us.
These events have led to changes, but our family has gained strength.
I worry less (well, I attempt to worry less) about the future, knowing that it is out of my control, and I try to slow down and appreciate the moments that I have, while I have them. While it's made me more aware of how little power I have, it has also made me more aware of the power and grace of God. It has made me more appreciative of God's grace and presence in the small daily events, finding a parking place near the front of a store, an appointment opening up when needed, a friend calling in my time of need. Little events that speak to my heart.
God's grace appears not so much in large events, but more in the small, powerful moments of my day. Last night, we hung the Christmas ornaments on the tree, displayed the manger scene and pulled the Christmas mugs out of the attic. As we worked, we listened to Christmas music.
Our 14-year-old, Robert, is now large enough to carry the boxes up and down from the attic, and our 16-year-old, Maggie, decorated the majority of the tree by herself. It was much different from the days when their plastic ornaments only hung on the bottom third of the tree.
When I came across a small ceramic angel that had broken in half Maggie said, "Don't worry. We will find its pieces and fix it." And we did. Robert fixed the light-up "Merry Christmas" doormat, while my husband Jimmy changed lights.
Stepping back after the last ornament was hung, Maggie declared it a "perfect tree." Noting that she likes the way we have various types of ornaments hung on the tree, she said, "I can remember almost all of them."
This small moment in a busy day was a picture of God's grace. Her smile and happy memories of Christmases past, her mention of loved ones missed and her leadership in decorating the tree, as well as her brother's amazing hauling skills, made me realize that life does continually change but what is important is being with those we love.
While it's always tempting to do more, to be involved more, especially this time of year, this is exactly the time we need to slow down, to do less, to be present more with those whom we love.
This Advent, remember that the season is not just about the event, but about the expectation, the waiting, the preparation, the everyday events where you can see God's grace shine. Slow down, and let your presence be your present this season.