Both conversations covered a number of topics - jobs, future educational endeavors, plans for a ski trip, our annual reunion, dog therapy school, and eventually, we got around to the topic of Christmas. Conversations about Christmas consumed the majority of minutes on the phone – decorating the tree, baking delicious and unique cookies, where the actual holiday will be spent. After that banter, we arrived at what, perhaps, used to be the pivotal question: “What do you want for Christmas?” We all independently answered by saying, “I don’t really know. I didn’t really ask for anything this year.”
When my mom asked me to make my list I responded with ambivalence. This year, the material gifts don’t matter. On one hand, my college friends and I are blessed with great jobs and don’t really need anything. On the other hand, we’ve been hit with two tragedies in the last eight months – someone close to us took his own life and another friend lost her 11 month old son in a tragic accident. Many tears have been shed and our grief has bonded us even more than before. We’ve also rejoiced over an engagement, a marriage, a book publishing, and two itsy bitsy Spiders who will make their world debuts next year! Together, this year, we have known deep sorrow and experienced great joy!
Our excitement for this season has been tainted with sadness. A dissonance exists as joy clangs up against grief. Somehow I thought this was contained within our bonds of friendship and was dictated by our circumstances until I received an email from a friend this afternoon. In the email she writes,
"… I'm struck by the discord between the minor key of O Come O Come Emmanuel and the jolly tunes playing as I type this in my local coffee shop. In the past, I've resisted this dissonance, but this year it somehow seems appropriate to me. Advent is all about what theologians call the "already and the not yet." Jesus has already come, and Jesus has not yet come again. The same is true in my life--I can turn to the past and tell story after story of the ways in which Jesus has come in, but I look to the future with hope that I will know more and more of his gracious, patient, and truthful presence. So there is the joy of what has already happened, and the deep longing for what someday will be."
-- Amy Julia Becker
This struck a chord with me and prompted me to write this post. I wouldn’t say that there is joy in the deaths we have experienced this year. Rather, there is joy in the time that we got to spend with those we’ve lost and in the memories that we keep in our hearts. There is joy as our bonds of friendship are strengthened. There is joy in anticipating the arrivals of babies and impending nuptials. There is hope and peace in the prayers that we pray for one another.
Speaking for myself (and hopefully my friends, too), I can say amidst the sadness, there is hope. At the end of 2011, I looked to 2012 with such anticipation and happiness. It turns out this year has been the worst year of my life! Thankfully, Jesus has gone before me, has met me in these times and is preparing me for the hope and joy of the future – “the already and the not yet”.
Christmas feels different this year. I thought it was solely because someone so dear is missing. That’s not entirely the case. This year, our focus has been taken away from the number of presents under the tree. This year, I/we are experiencing the true meaning of Christmas.