Every year it’s the same story when Advent comes around…Advent, which means, “come”. The ideals that our family holds up, the things we most want to come into our lives are peace, harmony and joy. We always start with the best intentions. We create a homemade Advent wreath, cutting fresh sprigs of cedar from our trees in the backyard and fill a glass pie dish with the greens and four candles, violet and pink. We lovingly place the wreath at the center of our kitchen table. Each evening as part of our dinner prayer, the children take turns lighting a candle and reading a prayer about building the stable in our hearts for Jesus. Doesn’t that sound beautiful? No greedy dreams of Christmas wishes for toys and gadgets. No secular Christmas music blaring from our radio. No loading up on Christmas treats and Christmas decorations before the season actually arrives. Just peace, harmony and joy around our Advent kitchen table.
Now for the reality check. It’s true we make a beautiful Advent wreath each year and lovingly place it at the center of our kitchen table. It’s true the children take turns lighting the candles and saying the prayer. But I’m sorry to admit that it is not as beautiful as it sounds. Each night, after the children are called to the dinner table, the arguing ensues before anyone even sits down. “Mom, can I light the candle tonight?” comes out of nearly every child’s mouth, followed by “You did it last night, it’s my turn!” And “No, it’s my turn!” As whose turn it will actually be to light the candle is decided, the arguments begin over who will do the reading of the prayer. The older boys have long since decided that the fight is not worth the effort, as the smaller ones almost always win out with their louder cries and complaints.
I often wonder if anyone is actually paying attention to the prayer, as it often turns out that the child who is lighting the candle struggles with the lighter and everyone tries to help. Then, the prayer reader usually struggles with some difficult words which seems to take a great deal of meaning out of the prayer, as the sibling next to the reader helps with pronunciation. By the time the candle is finally lit and the prayer is said, my family often has to rush through supper as our busy evening of homework, dishes, basketball practice, laundry and volunteer work looms overhead. The lighting of the candle and the reciting of the prayer seem like one more thing we have to get through, rather than something to slow us down and change our focus from busy activity to quiet contemplation.
But, I believe that somewhere down the line, my children will remember this tradition, even with the fighting included, and have fond memories and traditions to pass on to their own children. I believe that in their hearts they will remember the meaning behind the tradition. They will remember that our main intention was to invite the light of Christ into our home and our hearts, day after day, no matter what challenges stood in the way. They will remember that our family dinnertime was important enough to take place before all of the busy evening activities, and that our family prayer time was important enough to take place before our family dinner. Christ comes first in our lives, then family, then busy activities. They will remember that they had to learn to work out their differences. They will remember the satisfaction of learning to be patient with the lighting of the candle and the reading of the prayer. They will remember how good it felt to forgo their turn at candle lighting to let one of the younger ones enjoy that privilege.As we journey together through the dark days of Advent, the light of God must be entering our hearts without our awareness, because little by little, the arguing gives way to loving assistance and patient understanding, until the arguing is all but forgotten and only the joy of our Advent waiting in family love remains. Not only do I wait patiently for Christmas, but I also wait for the day when our children will have all left home and Paul and I will be left alone to fight over who gets to light the Advent candle and say the prayer. So I whisper my own little prayer to Jesus, “Take your time, let us enjoy this present moment of dark Advent waiting, and let us enjoy this present time with children in our home to love and enjoy. Teach us not to hurry through Advent and not to hurry through life. Teach us to find you, right here, right now, God with us, Emmanuel. Christmas will “come”, the day that the children leave home will “come”, but for right now, let us remain in the gift of the present moment, even if we do have to put up with a few fights now and then.”
(a re-post from the archives)