I grew up in a very small, conservative church in a tiny town. The sanctuary was very old with a high ceiling and creaky floors. I learned my worldview there as a child, sitting under suspended chandeliers in hard, wooden pews. While I would leave much of that learning behind for new ways of seeing things, it gave me a tender spot that is hard to shake for old hymns, out of tune pianos, and especially candlelight Christmas Eve services.
I’d like for my children to remember sweet Christmas songs echoing off sanctuary walls and candle wax dripping down onto cardboard circles on Christmas Eve. I’d love to all get dressed in our nicest sweaters and head to church for a story about Jesus in a manger. But, church can feel weird sometimes still, and our kids are not on board for going, even if we go to a familiar place with faces we know. As a family, we are figuring this out— trying to “include and transcend” our tradition while also not forcing a particular way of doing things on our kids.
Advent is a season of waiting. We wait with great hope. On Christmas morning, we are reminded that hopes can be fulfilled, that God does show up, and that humanity’s storyline is crushingly broken and beautiful all at once.
While we sit in this waiting, we should be reminded of John’s Gospel, where he never mentions the birth of Jesus, but begins his story back in Genesis with the Christ. God has revealed himself through the natural universe since its inception*, so he is in the waiting, too, and always has been. If waiting is to look forward to something eagerly, God has done the most waiting of us all by a long shot. I imagine it was not a hurried waiting, but a hopeful and excited waiting, like an artist waits on the creative process. It took millions of years for the first stars to light the universe. It took about nine billion years for our planet to form. It took nine million years after the dinosaurs went extinct for our continent to fully recover from the mass extinction event. I have trouble waiting for my coffee some mornings— but God is really good at waiting.
I like to think that God is good at waiting because he is always present. All the minuscule moments that make up epochs of time— he has inhabited them all, fully. And if we could find the gravity of the present moment, however ordinary or underwhelming it may seem, we would be good at the waiting, too.
If you, too, are in a waiting season while you figure out how to search for God, parent good humans, and create a holiday soaked in spiritual meaning for your family while not finding the church Christmas spaces very helpful, you are not alone. Enter your season of waiting with patient hope.
Wait on your children to find God in their own sacred ways. Wait on the old Bible stories to seem both new and sweetly familiar as your faith expands. Wait on church, if only to feel a deep sense of gratitude for what it gave you and what it taught you to let go of. Wait on your family to walk a spiritual journey together, even if at times, the path diverges and curves and you get separated. Wait on God to show up in a manger but also in the falling snow, in the clear night sky, in your child, in someone you judge, and in yourself. Wait, friend. Wait with God for God.
And on Christmas morning, be reminded that hope is fulfilled.
*Read The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr for a beautiful explanation of “The Christ.” Also, it is my favorite book, ever.