Advent has me all unsettled. But I guess that’s the point. This is the time of year when a man with very prominent facial hair seeks our audience. And he is not Santa.
He is John the Baptist, standing waist deep in the wilderness waters, shouting, “You brood of vipers!” Imagine encountering that dude instead of Santa at the end of a long line of screaming children, forced to sit on a stranger’s lap.
I took the baptizer’s words with me today (and my St. Francis medal) as I went Christmas shopping with my husband, a task that left us both exhausted. It’s not just shopping for four children that’s tiring. It’s the tension of idealism and reality. Of John the Baptist and Santa. We long to eschew the utterly reckless consumerism that runs rampant through this season (and every season, really). But we also want to celebrate the joy and hope of Christmas with our kids.
Some things will touch us and shift our focus. The photo on the cover of the newspaper of a child who will not reach the new year in Yemen, a girl the same age as our own who dies after being released from border detention.
But still, we drive the cart through aisle after plundered aisle of toys and pajamas, fuzzy socks and Star Wars ornaments searching for the gift that will give our children awe, that they won’t be tired of in two weeks, all while trying to stick to our budget.
And then a friend from West Africa sends my husband a photo of hundreds of bricks he’s been making for his new home. They cost the same amount as our new down comforter.
Sometimes this journey of faith feels like swimming upstream and then getting nowhere that important, despite all the hard work. Because we agonize over our budget to try and spend less; we go through all of our things before Christmas so we don’t accumulate stuff and more stuff, we try to reach out to our neighbors and serve our church and be vulnerable with our community.
But still we are guzzling the world’s resources, leaving the bulk of current and future disaster for the most vulnerable people on the planet, church attendance waxes and wanes, our neighbors wave at us across the street and then we go back inside our own houses. We agonize over doing all the right things and in the end, it seems to make no difference. Sometimes it’s tempting to just give up.
Tonight, though, I grasp the St. Francis medal hanging on a chain around my neck. Despite his seemingly superhuman feats of piety, Francis was frail and weak too. I try to see him as a fellow pilgrim on a journey of faith. We are both trudging weakly to the end of Advent, hoping to grasp the significance of the creator of the universe come to rescue us in a tiny babe.
I don’t think I’ll ever get really get that. But I’m gonna try. Really, I will.
In the meantime, John the Baptist, can you turn the volume down a bit? We’re trying to go shopping and you’re scaring the kids.