Heavy Advent New Year_Header

Out of a Heavy Advent into A New Year

I was doing some casual perusing of the internet at the end of the holiday season when a blog post taunted me. The title, borrowed from the Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane hit “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” didn’t only fail to resonate with me, it sent my shoulders into a posture of defiance.

There it was, Let your heart be light, art directed all lovely-like over a scene of Christmas awesome. I paused before mentally shouting back, “I couldn’t do that this year.”

It took multiple seconds to convince myself that blog posts do not have the capacity to smirk at me.

December brings a desire for a sprightly spirit. One that cheerfully wafts towards heaven in a breeze made by Christmas carols and laughter and smells of hip-coffee-shop peppermint mocha. My heart longs for this advent lightness.

But “light” isn’t a word I can associate with this year’s advent season.

Since thanksgiving, my husband and I had to bow out of consideration for the adoption of a baby boy. Friends, the kind that fit more comfortably in a box marked family,entered the hospital full with pregnancy and left it with empty arms. And yet another set of friends who occupy the family box went through the fostering ringer.

Peppermint mochas are too sweet a smell to accompany kleenex boxes and memorial services. Sometimes advent doesn’t smell like a hip coffee shop. Sometimes advent smells like the hospital.

What do we do when the Christmas season was just downright hard? When the kind of  joy you experienced was painstakingly wrought into your heart instead of gently descending there like a seasonally appropriate partridge in a pear tree?

Because here I am staring down a new year that begs for clean slate knowing I can’t, that I refuse to, put down my marred version.

What will I do now that my soul sends me walking into the new year a little more weary, a little less sprightly?

Well, here’s what I am planning on.

Humble, Desperate Prayer 

It was not lost on me that the greatest pains of the advent season revolved around children. Adoptive ones, fostered ones, biological ones. All children whose lives I could not heal, or fix, or save.

It was also not lost on me that the greatest joy of the advent season is a child. A focus on the birth of the one who is able to heal, to fix, and to save.

This advent was an exercise in contrast; seeing my inadequacy made me so certain of his ability. So needy, incapable me will welcome 2016 without any pretense of my abilities to fix, to heal, or to save anything or anyone on my own. This year I plan to head straight for the one who is able.

Paul slams so many things about prayer into two little verses to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Anxiety is extinguished with grateful requests about everything. These grateful requests bring us to a place of peace that acts like a defense, a guard, for our hearts and mind. We are fortified in Christ as we bring the concerns of life, all of life, before the Lord.

I saw a glimpse of that this advent season.

At times we huddled in groups of three or four and other moments we filled rooms with tens of people to pray. We begged. And the deeper our hurt seemed the deeper the love of God for us proved to plunge. In the craziness of pain there was not chaos but peace. When the circumstances before us felt senseless our certainty of Christ only grew.

I walk into 2016 a bit weary, but my God is not. He showed me he carries the weight of my burdens.

Confident Proclamation

Experiencing God draw so close, feeling him sustain in what seems unbearable, made cement out of my conviction that God is able to do what he says he will do. So while my prayers will be marked by humility this year my proclamations will be full of confidence.

I will rejoice in what the Lord has done by bringing into 2016 the testimony of a God who drew near in the turmoil of 2015.

Did you experience this in 2015? Oh, how our world needs your testimony of the goodness of God in suffering. Especially now as we collectively set expectations of the 365 days ahead.

It’s so tempting to see freshness as a promise of a year of ease. We know better, those of us who walked a difficult advent. God is better than ease. If you know that tell your story. Confidently proclaim it.

These two things are reflected in Romans 12:12. A verse that’s already special to me but even more so this year. A verse that’s tucked right into a paragraph about what it looks like to be Christian:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Romans 12:12

After a heavy advent season, I want a Romans 12:12 twenty sixteen, I want to be a Romans 12 Christian this year.

Ok Fine, “A Marry Little Christmas”

I was so frustrated by that blog post that I looked up “Have Yourself a Marry Little Christmas” on wikipedia. Confession: it felt right to find more reasons to hate it.

What I found was that the song wasn’t intended to be cheerful. It was written for a particularly sad moment in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. When Judy Garland first heard the song she was slated to sing she petitioned for a change in the lyrics. And overtime, so did other recognizable figures who wanted to sing the song. People like Frank Sinatra.

These famous voices wanted to sing a Christmas song that highlighted a present happiness. but Martin’s original lyrics were written to highlight a hopeful future in light of a difficult past. They were about walking into a fresh year after a heavy advent.

Maybe that blog post wasn’t taunting me after all.

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