In Defense of a Pathetic Advent

In Defense of a Pathetic Advent December 4, 2020

I cannot seem to get my act together this week–I blame the fact that our church is doing a very early zoom morning prayer on the weekdays and that getting up for them is what’s ruining everything else. Still, it is Friday, so let’s see if there are some takes, shall we?


I did get Advent candles in time, but so far I haven’t lighted them even once. I have them sitting there in all their pristine glory like some kind of memorial to a lost life back in the day when I did light Advent candles. Also, I did not lay in those awful chocolate Advent calendars because the children complained about how bad the chocolate tasted. Instead, many days late, I went and bought a lot of Aldi chocolate bars and threw them down on the coffee table and the children all just ate three days’ worth of chocolate. Now I have to go buy some more. Matt, pondering the spectacle, asked what happened to those simple but elegant calendars where you just opened the little window and looked at a picture and that was good enough. The children stared at him blankly. I sipped my tiny thimble of sherry and kept scrolling through the internet.


These little domestic moments are probably numbered, now that the children are so big and so old. Eventually, they will leave home and start telling each other tales about what kinds of lovely (or pathetic) traditions we enjoyed when they were children. These will be apocryphal and full of fake news.

Lots of times I run across people online asking for advice about what to do with young children for seasons like Advent and Lent. These anxieties generally run along the anxieties of discipleship and devotion. In the quest for discipleship, there is a loud cry for devotional material for children, something nice to do or read that will move the little blessings further along toward Jesus.

In this mad search, one year we as a family did morning prayer in the wee sma’s several times a week, lining up the children and trying to read the Bible to them as they squirmed and complained. Another year we read all the Narnia books out loud. But mostly, I think I just handed out the chocolate calendars and hoped everyone would stop screaming. Looking back, I wonder why on earth I would have wanted to do anything “devotional” with any kid for any reason.


Certainly, thinking of doing something “devotional” with older children is also an exercise in rolling that big rock up a hill every day and having it crush you in the evening as it rolls back down. I know that the house is supposed to be a domestic church of some kind–I feel like I read that somewhere–but you know what makes a better church? Actual Church. Discipleship, I have discovered, happens in church, mainly from the pulpit. Parenting happens at home. This is my philosophy–cobbled together as I have tried to just get through every single day of the last 18 years with a pack of kids in tow.


Lockdown, of course, ruins this. The “discipleship” our church offers for the very young in the form of Sunday School is on hold for the long covid day. The parents of our littlest ones are trying to accomplish at home what we used to do on Sunday mornings altogether. And I think the trial is epic. I know there have been some lovely moments, but it’s a big burden to carry on top of everything else. All the supports the church can give are only that–supports, crutches to keep everyone wabbling along.


No, really, the rhythm of the life of the church is a good way to have your children come to know and love Jesus. When the world opens back up (which, hopefully, it will), it will again be plenty complicated to go through the hassle of dragging your little ones along to the pew. Think of it as a respite to watch some other person up at the front light the Advent candles, to shove the wiggling and whining into Sunday School for an hour so that someone else can make them stop trying to set themselves on fire for a few minutes, to show up for Lessons and Carols hear the choir sing instead of trying to remember any of the words yourself, to be in the Christmas Pageant where you not only get to hear other people read the Christmas Story but eventually accidentally memorize some bits of it, to go to the Christmas Tea and lie around on the floor in a big Christmas dress crying because of so much sugar.


I mean, what I’m saying is, if you have your act together for family devotions and the evening lighting of the candle and liturgical eating of the chocolate that’s marvelous. May God bless your awesomeness. But if you can’t get your act together, narrow down and choose just one thing, and let the thing you choose be much bigger and stronger than you alone in your house–let it be the community of believers who, in their isolated dysfunctional broken lives probably do not impress you (nor should they), but when they come together to worship their savior, their weary hearts and hands are lifted to a true and bold discipleship, a faith that astonishes both themselves and the world. Even if you can’t go in person, even in covid.


And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go break into that supply of Advent chocolate and then waddle off to the store to buy some more. And if I happen to listen to a Christmas carol in the car, go ahead and point your righteous fingers. I won’t be able to see you through the haze of sugar.

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