When your Advent path seems crooked

Even the decorations are hanging crooked already, the bows of the Christmas tree hanging low with ornaments, wilting before the big crowning moment on December 25. Maybe it's the new job that has me tied in knots right up until Christmas Eve. Maybe it's the late wrapping of gifts. Maybe it's how my children seem to associate "Christmas" more with Grandma and less with our own home. Everything about this Advent season seems to have come out wrong.

I've been on a crooked path for as long as I remember, and I guess my expectations of my myself are probably getting in the way. Shouldn't I be used to this by now? Failing expectations? The Advent devotionals so carefully prepared gathering dust on the kitchen island. The baking sheets that have yet to see any cut-out cookies. The Jesus we lost from one of the Nativities earlier in December still unfound in the chaos of the upstairs that hasn't been cleaned for months. My bedroom, the sanctuary of the home, buried under a pile of work clothes and undone grading.

Before the tears can fall, a whisper comes that stills my soul. Advent has been crooked since the very first Advent. Mary on a donkey, uprooted and on her way to a foreign town. Arriving to a town already full to capacity. A birth in a barn. Was any of this what she expected after that Holy visitation by the angel and the filling of her womb with the Holy Spirit?

We are in a constant battle to get it right. Get it right with ourselves, our children, our neighbors, those we witness to. Wear the right clothes to church, sit down and stand up at the right times in the service. Remember how to take communion here at THIS church. Follow the protocol, follow the rules, follow the followers who seem to be following better than we.

What if the Gospel points in a whole different direction? What if following the Gospel is following a path as crooked as my own this Christmas season? What if we're all supposed to be following down a thin mountain path, rousting along on the back of a lowly donkey, heavy with promise but laden with exhaustion and a feeling that this can't possibly be the WAY? What if the end of the path doesn't lead to a gleaming pile of gifts perfectly wrapped and chosen, but three gifts odd from three odd men who don't speak our language? What if the birth of Christmas is not some hushed moment around the perfectly stoked fireplace where all the children sit at rapt attention while the passage is read from Matthew? What if it's a smelly, painful, bloody birth onto the hay?

If He came to confound the wise with simplicity, came to bind up the broken-hearted, came to make the crooked paths straight underfoot - maybe I haven't missed Christmas this year at all. Maybe He is showing me a new layer of how crushed expectations sometimes reveal the very everyday miracles He's chosen for our blessing. Maybe this year it was more about helping a student on one of the last days of Advent, or sharing the Gospel in my office with someone who doesn't yet proclaim His name. And maybe, really, it's more than any of that: maybe it's me He's cradling along the crooked path, redeeming, revealing, reconciling. Maybe through all the crookedness He's drawing ME close to whisper, "You'll still find me in the most unexpected places." Like the very bottom of a bruised heart ready to admit that I haven't got it right, I can't get it right, and Advent is empty unless I'm leaning on the only One who can carry me through.

Come, thou long expected Jesus, 
born to set thy people free; 
from our fears and sins release us, 
let us find our rest in thee.  
Israel's strength and consolation, 
hope of all the earth thou art; 
dear desire of every nation, 
joy of every longing heart.
~Charles Wesley, 1700s~

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