I think i say this, or something like it, every year of the world. But, here it is again:
It is really, really hard to get into Advent and Christmas mode when it is 80-degrees and sunny outside. There’s something just downright apocolyptic about driving down a scenic desert highway, with gorgeous views and sunshine, and hearing ‘Holly Jolly Christmas” or “Frosty the Snowman” come on the radio. Nevermind the fact that ‘Holly Jolly” is just about the worst song in the history of the world…it is just an eerie discord between what you hear and what you see; the season of the spirit clashing painfully with the natural season. It makes the sort of sound you would might expect on the soundtrack of a horror movie. Like, look at all this beautiful sunshine! There must be a monster hiding behind that cactus. Or, maybe more like Frosty lying in a puddle in that hothouse. Do you remember the trauma of that moment from your childhood? Welcome to Christmas in Arizona. You see it everywhere.
Maybe i’m not explaining it very well. Maybe i read too much Stephen King. I just can’t help but feel we are messing with nature in dangerous ways when we try to pretend it’s winter outside.
Don’t get me wrong–November through January in the desert is paradise. It’s what we dream of through the long months of summer misery. This is why we live here, where every native form of plant and wildlife wants to kill us. The sun and blue skies are good for the soul in their own spectacular way. But you know, it just isn’t in a christmass-y kind of way.What i find myself doing is burning more festive scented candles, filling up my office with cheap tinsel, and playing even more chees-o Christmas music, JUST to convince myself that, yes, baby Jesus is coming, and I need to be writing sermons about it.
The cheap cheer offers its own brand of comfort, as well. But what i find, year after year of Christmas in the desert, is that my soul is learning a new rhythm of Advent. It no longer depends on snow, sweaters, and hot chocolate to find the pattern of waiting and expectation. On some deep level that i never knew i had (“I’m Joey! I don’t have another level!”) I’m learning that Christmas comes when the (fake) greens are hung in the church; when people demonstrate generosity in caring for our neighbors; when we have to move extra chairs into the sanctuary for all the guests who will come seeking that slow, certain joy; and when, once again, there is more than enough room at the table of blessing. As a matter of fact, Christmas comes when you can finally breathe again in the desert, and even if it does not feel like White Christmas, it feels like paradise, all the same.
Frosty wasn’t the only one who knew the sun was hot that day. So did all the people living in Phoenix. While visions of melted snowmen dance in my head, I realize that the spirit of Advent meets us where we are, and brings us what we need, every single year of the world.