advent in the frenzy: as it always was

I don’t know who I have to blame for the peaceful, pastel images of Advent I have hard-wired in my brain – stained glass windows? holy cards? illustrated children’s Bibles? – but every year I find myself torn between the following:

Advent-in-my-head (serene Mary, peaceful Joseph, calmly carrying on to Bethlehem to prepare for the birth of Jesus)

Advent-in-my-life (frantic to-do lists, Christmas preparations, a December spilling over with family parties and festive gatherings)

The nagging guilt that this liturgical season should be all quiet prayer and slow anticipation. Meditative chant instead of blaring holiday jingles on the radio. A small candle flickering in the dark night instead of our neighbor’s Christmas display flashing hypnotically across the street.


But this year, I am coming to peace with Advent-in-the-frenzy. Because I realized it was ever thus.

Maybe this insight came as I was overwhelmed by nausea for the 4th time one morning (be patient, dear reader, I promise to stop complaining about morning sickness…AS SOON AS IT ENDS).

Maybe it came as I was trying to cram kids’ dentist appointments and mom’s midwife check-ups into short weeks already stuffed with school Christmas concerts and office holiday parties.

Maybe it came as I flipped through family photos looking for card ideas and I remembered just what it looks like to be at the end of a pregnancy. Swollen, uncomfortable, counting down the hours till baby arrives.

Whatever the epiphany moment, I realized that the first Advent must have been no different from our own today.

Picture Mary at the end of her pregnancy. Picture Joseph trying to get ready for the unexpected baby.

Now imagine, as Luke’s Gospel invites us to do, that they have to make this last-minute, third-trimester trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. An arduous trip over long distances to a strange city for some government bureaucracy, just when their lives were already consumed with readying for the child.

And on a donkey. (I always cringe. This one sealed Mary’s sainthood for sure.)

The first Advent? The first preparing for Christ to come? The earliest anticipation of Incarnation?

It was likely one heck of a hurried, hormonal, harrowing time. No pregnant woman, no expectant father, no sane couple would sign up for that.

And while I want to believe that the Holy Family’s lives were still full of saintly prayer and quiet communion with their Maker, I have to believe they were just as human as the rest of us, too. Stressed-out, anxious, uncertain about the unknown.

So this December I embrace the chaos. I invite the frenzy.

I find comfort in how Jesus’ parents kept their wits about them when everything seemed too much. I find peace in knowing there has never been a calm Advent.

And I marvel again at a God whose in-breaking is always messy – as painful as labor; as challenging as a last-minute journey; as unexpected as birthing a baby in a dirty stable. There is so much hope for us here – that nothing is too frantic or frenzied or frustrating or fractured for God.

Advent in the wild. As it always has been.

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  1. Claire on 9 December 2013 at 10:56 am

    Laura, I am so happy to have found your blog again! I must have become unsubscribed to it (I have noticed this happens occasionally with wordpress blogs), and one day I realized that it had been a long time since one of your posts had appeared in my email. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of your blog, in order to look it up and re-subscribe! So I was really thrilled to see your post on Power of Moms today. Now I can finally re-subscribe!

    • Laura on 13 December 2013 at 8:26 am

      So glad to have you back, Claire! Hope things are well with you and your family. Blessings on your Advent.

  2. Mary Emily on 4 December 2013 at 10:09 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I, too, wonder, “where’s my peaceful, prayerful Advent?” and “why are my fellow Catholics always pressuring me to have a peaceful, prayerful Advent?” So reminding me of Mary & Joseph and what Real Advent was like (ugh, a donkey!) is so helpful. Let’s work towards a peaceful, joyful Christmas!

    • Laura on 13 December 2013 at 8:26 am

      Thank you for your words, Mary Emily! I agree that the pressure and guilt over how Advent Should Be is the last thing any of us need during this time of year. It’s an invitation to step back and prepare for Christmas differently, but there’s no perfect peaceful formula we have to follow to find joy.

  3. Elaine on 3 December 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Keep the nausea complaints coming! It’s real and true and awful. I’m 37 weeks along with #3 and still vomiting at least once a week. And I will complain til it’s over.

    Congrats on your pregnancy. Despite the uncomfortableness that is and is to come, I know it is a blessing for you.

    Thank you for your words that point me back to God when I’m in my own prenatal despair.

    • Laura on 13 December 2013 at 8:24 am

      “prenatal despair” – yes! Congratulations, Elaine, on your little one and your own impatient Advent waiting…at least the end is in sight! And you have my sympathies and admiration for being sick all the way through. Mothers are tough stock.

  4. Lauren on 3 December 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Amen to this! I have spent the last two mornings in quiet contemplation: waking at 5:30, stumbling into my home office/prayer room/writing area/yoga space for stretching, holy reading, holy writing. The space is presently cluttered with gifts to give and a big bag of clothes that my aunt was giving away and I acquired. There is a large box of writing things I’m attempting to figure out how to organize and my DVD collection is, for some reason, in the middle of the room.

    It’s the kind of clutter that drives me batty. But this morning as I settled into my prayer chair with Gertrude the Great, I realized that sometimes we have to pray, write, exercise, and be in the middle of clutter and chaos. Sometimes we have to keep finding stillness despite the messiness.

    I have not been a still person lately. I have moved around a lot. My prayers are rushed or nonexistent. My waking hours are filled with noise, movement, doing, going. For two days, though, I have started in stillness and gentleness. I’ll probably drop the practice as soon as it feels like it’s actually doing something, but I hope I don’t. Even so, you remind me that stillness is the ideal we’ve placed on this season. And isn’t that, therefore, a rather passive image we’ve placed on Mary as well–peacefully awaiting this baby dropping into the world from her womb, as though she didn’t have to toil to hold and birth him? I know of no expectant mothers who have been still, unless forced into stillness by bedrest. I am amazed by the movement, the activity, the liveliness of mothers-to-be as they bear and birth children.

    An active Mary. An active Avent. There’s a concept.

    • Laura on 13 December 2013 at 8:23 am

      I love your words, Lauren. An active Mary and an active Advent. And contemplation amidst the chaos. I think we are called to all that, to the good movement of a life lived towards God. I hope your season is full of stillness and liveliness, too.

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