Let Not The Manger Remain Empty
There is no Christmas tree. There is no creche. There is no Advent wreath on the table, nor St. Nicks on the piano. No greenery threaded through the stair’s handrail. The only signs of Christmas coming are the faint Advent music coming through the speakers and the colorful lights hung by our oldest son, livening up the front door’s sidelights.
We’ve been here two days, and this is our Advent of zero expectations, our home reflecting the transitory nature of our current life, which stands in stark contrast from previous years, as it is strangely bereft of the physical signs that used to mark the season and made the invisible visible for growing eyes and hands and hearts.
We’ve been separated as a family since September, with the hubby’s job taking us for six months to far-off Utah, a 24-hour drive from our big kids, who have to stay here for school and work. This is only the third time we’ve been together as a complete family since we left. Every reunion has been sweet, every parting excruciatingly painful. I have a new appreciation of Mary’s sorrows and sacrifice as a mother, being away from my grown kids so much — there have been many nights spent in tears. Living in a state of flux sure gives us a different perspective on things . There is more busy-ness to come — more travel, our oldest’s wedding, helping her move, and yet more travel — between now and the new year.
I suppose I could spend the next few days, baking cookies, decorating, doing crafts, wrapping gifts, cleaning and decluttering and getting the house ready for celebrating. Or, as in those years when I was heavy with child at Christmastime, I could sit quietly and wait, letting the season wash over me, resting in Christ and Mary’s arms, as I hold my children tight in mine. I opt for the latter.
These few months have been such a cross for all of us. Like always, there are countless blessings, though I lament that the experience has often brought to the fore what is the worst in each of us, in all of us.
So why zero expectations? Because when things go awry, my husband and I tend to go for the absolute minimum — back to the basics: prayer, family time, quiet. Zero because baseline = peace. We have some work to do, rough spots to smooth over, relationships to repair. It is rather an apt way to spend Advent. Candice is so right about humility. It’s always easy to see what other people are doing or not doing: If only he/she would do this or be that, then *I* would have no difficulty getting holy. It’s much more difficult to look at ourselves FIRST and ask ourselves where WE are lacking. What could I have done that I didn’t? Did I give my best, or did I begrudgingly offer the least I could get away with?
This is one reason I like making my resolutions at the beginning of the liturgical instead of the calendar year. Mary, by her example, showed us that only in deep prayer, can God come to us, can God’s plans unfold in us. Advent is the perfect time for this. I pray that I can subject myself to God’s scrutiny, to give my fiat and discard the dross. I ask for a new humility in order to let His grace come, to usher Wisdom in.
Joyful anticipation isn’t coming so naturally this year. I contemplate my own motherhood, look at the empty manger in my heart. I serve, cook and clean, and be what they need me to be for these two weeks, hoping that in doing so I become that fertile ground that the Infant needs. What invasive weed have I allowed to take root, that needs uprooting? Will I let Him save me from myself? Will He find a ready welcome, a heart open to His gentle probing? I pray that even within the limits imposed on us by circumstances we can somehow still manage to become imitators of the Theotokos, God-bearers for each other. I invite you to pray with us and for us.
I allow You, Lord, to silence my fears. Teach me again to trust in Your reassurance that all shall be well. I look to Your promises and take them with a spirit of acceptance, not of questioning. I open myself to the gamut of possibilities, to embrace all — pain, suffering, uncertainty. But most of all JOY. Come, Lord Jesus, Breath of Heaven, my King! Come and disrupt the regularity, and now even the irregularity, of my life. I wait for You to once again weave beauty into it. Let not our mangers remain empty.
Hopefully, we can still put up a tree and a creche before it’s time to leave again. And perhaps even let them adorn the house past Candlemas, in time for a more permanent reunion… on this earth anyway. Ecce iam venit.