Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Is.40:3.
I work fast and furious at the end of a long clamor of day hours. My shoulders clench at what is still undone. I mix gingerbread pancake batter, stir coconut milk hot cocoa, google advent verses, clean a bathroom that is simply too gross for me to have in my home for one more moment, tidy what feels like swamps of clutter, handwash dishes because my dishwasher is kaput (again. first world problems.) My phone and computer blink as my inbox and voicemail bloat, unaddressed. Unwrapped presents sit in piles downstairs. Lucy needs a new winter coat before we leave for Vail. The dog has not had a walk in days, and I neglect my writing.
I place the advent wreath in the center, the heart, of the dinner table. I trace my fingers over the tiny porcelain baby Jesus. “Remember to remember Incarnation,” He whispers to me,”I AM the source of this season of swirling preparation.”
Jack and Lucy bounce at the garage door in anticipation of Daddy’s arrival.
The garage door finally rumbles. The joy of Daddy’s homecoming lives daily triumphant in our home, resulting in a rousing game of CHASE. Dreamy Scott kisses me hello, smiles into my eyes, but I see the creeping fatigue, the reckoning of endless hours. I recognize my story, too, in those weary eyes. “This decade should be called the Tired 30s,” I remember sweet friend Kristen saying one night. Yes. We all live so tired from the effort of building a life worth rejoicing in. It is hard work creating a safe place, beating back this fallen world.
CHASE reigns for a loud era of the evening. Finally, we sit around the table, preparation finished, dinner hot and inviting. We eat and laugh. Our shoulders relax; the tangled knots of stress fall away in the warmth of happy voices.
We light the Candle of Hope with a flare of fire. We review our prayers of Hope from last week. Then I hold steady the Candle of Hope while Jack tips the waiting wick of the new candle, Preparation, into the flame. The Candle of Preparation – ignited by Hope. We sit in silence for just a moment as we gaze at the glimmers.
“Do you know what preparation means? It means getting ready for something. What are we getting ready for right now? Yes, right, Christmas! Advent is when we remember to wait for God. He is already here, of course, but Advent reminds us of waiting for the very best gift in all of history – baby Jesus. Tonight we celebrate preparation, getting ready for Jesus. We remember that is is valuable to work hard for something that has not yet happened, but will certainly come.”
The candles gleam a circle of golden light dancing on the faces of the Three I love. My heart turns over in the candlelight. I remember why I spend my days in constant movement. I do it for them. I look at Scott, reach out to touch his fingers. He does it for us. We are so tired from the busy preparation for the sake of worthy goals.
We need the warm blaze of hope to redeem cold preparation. The fallen core of this world will not repair until the end of days. Until then, we spin in endless cycles of renewal and dying. We live tired because all that is worth fighting for costs the best of who we are.
My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Ecc.2:10-11.
But Hope ignites Preparation. I whirl, exhausted but happy, in ever-circling revolutions of entropy because I lift my eyes to the Hope of Incarnation. Immanuel-God-With-Us transforms our tired stories into a preparation for eternity, for everlasting worship, for celestial reward. Christmas is a vortex of busy-ness, yes, and that will always be. Beyond this season, simply living a faithful life on this side of eternity wears our souls ragged. But living zealously is worth the effort, since our dead souls have been resurrected by Immanuel’s flame of hope.
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness. Ecc.2:24-26.