He laughs now, this rolling plump of a babe. Chortles like a chuckling gentleman when I tickle under his chin.
The laughter is intoxicating; we are all addicted. His doting brothers swarm the changing table for a chance to coax out another.
In the instant when his round eyes brighten and his soft mouth opens to laugh, I am swept inside. Everything becomes this moment: joy that totalizes.
As soon as the moment evaporates, I come back to present and realize:
Once upon a time I did not believe I would feel the pure shine of happiness again.
What grace of a second chance. What gift from grief.
. . .
The world is a wasteland, again and always. If you only trust the headlines and the handwringers.
Meanwhile most of us go on, quietly doing the unnoticed work that underpins everything. Emails and deadlines. Laundry and dishes. Building and mending. Helping and forgiving.
My mother used to tell me that every generation was convinced it was the worst, it was the last. Wisdom is the comfort that keeps us going, hopeful and humbled.
Perhaps we are nearing the end; perhaps we are not. It will not change what we are about.
Trying to choose mercy and love tenderly and walk humbly with our God of justice. Failing every day, rising each dawn to hope anew.
Advent has come again, steady as seasons for two thousand years. We need the poor weak wailing Christ child again as we need him always, crying to us from the dirt and dung of a rough farm barn in a foreign land.
He wants what we want – food and love – but he will nourish and nurture us with himself in turn. The ultimate, divine difference.
We pull the figures from the creche box, small enough for smallest hands, and I marvel that we think we can contain Incarnation at all, let alone call it a set. As if it were complete. As if we could collect and control it, then tuck it away till another convenient moment.
When the truth should be smashing through boxes and boundaries year round, shuddering with the power we pretend to display, that God could come among us, that God is With-Us (which is everything, and nothing we can comprehend).
Yet these are still-joys, too. Small and so simple we forget to mention.
To pull out tradition from where we tucked it away.
To let ritual remind us we are part of longer stories than our own sinful sputters and starts.
To take pleasure in beauty for beauty’s sake, the soul’s instinct that one way to welcome Love is to clear out what is plain and tired, to set shine the brightest we have to sparkle against the darkness, if only for a short season.
These are the quiet-joys. Not the garish glare of commerce which blinds our eyes and dulls our palate, fools us into thinking we deserve more when most have none.
But softer moments: the flickering candle in winter dark, the gentle hymn in a hushed church, the small gift wrapped with thoughtful love.
Warmth waiting to shine and sing and share a treasure of good in the name of God.
. . .
Advent is a New Year, after all. Living counter culture as we do in church.
So I resolve to make mine this. I will not let grief steal my joy. I will not let despair dull my hope.
I will bring to my family and my work and our world any quiet-joy I can carry, given for sharing. (Delightful the ease when we learn to offer a gift never of our making.)
Come, still-hope and faith and mercy. The truths turned trite only when we cease to practice them daily.
He came to bring us life abundant, that forgotten stable child. He came to rend the world inside out for justice. He came to forgive what we did not think possible (which was us).
And he brought us grace, which is the still-joys.
Which is everything worth living.
. . .
Once upon a time, in an ill-advised, off-hand moment of maternal desperation, I proclaimed with frustration that If Ever (because surely never) The Children Could Go Through An Entire Meal Without Reminders About Table Manners, then we would get Dairy Queen to celebrate.
(The most mundane, midwestern of bribes.)
Of course they tried and failed, tried and despaired, tried and almost made it to the end.
But we are all letter-of-the-law legalists about certain rules, so I dug in my heels. I would not dole out sweet whips of soft ice cream, overpriced and oversugared, unless all children in the household practiced perfect manners for one whole meal.
And then lo. On the last eve of the liturgical year, boxes of Christmas trappings already tugged from the basement and tumbled across the living room, they did it.
The wave of good will had been swelling for a week, as the oldest brother remembered the ancient offer, grew inspired with a gleam in his eye and a firmness in his tone, reminding his younger siblings at the start of each meal that This Could Be The Night of Nights.
Was it perfect and impeccable? Decidedly not. But it was so deeply good and delightful and of course unstoppable, that against our better judgment and best-laid plans, the young were declared victorious and piled into the van with the joy of wriggling puppies.
Hot fudge sundaes were carried home high. We slurped and spun spoons in the warm chocolate goo. As I looked around the table at these shining beloved faces, smeared with smiles, I could taste the gift of ending and beginning in sweetness.
A still-joy all its own.
The quiet joys are where we return, what makes grief-darkened years lighten as we welcome back the soft steps of what once was and what might be now.
Today starts anew. Advent fresh but ordinary at home. The children will eat with their hands and talk with mouths full; I will lose my temper and forget to forgive. It will be the same story we have told for ages.
But the baby will laugh with the clear chuckle that erases grief for a good instant, foretasting the forever-great of what comes next. We will remember the night we ate DQ because grace is unmerited.
The still-joys are still thick around us, eternal as the pressing dark of the winter, the worry, and the world.
Advent has come again, with still-joys for quiet hearts. Thank God and grace for that.