Advent begins today.
The word Advent comes from the Latin, "Adventus" which means the anticipation of Jesus' coming. The expectation of the central moment in the history of the world. Humanity splits like a saltine cracker at that moment in Bethlehem when God Himself, the Savior of all mankind, entered our world in the mortal flesh of a tiny baby. Even our calendar marks it's beginning with this momentous night...BC became AD the night He was born.
His first cries echo through time. He wore our flesh, shared our joys and felt our sorrows. "He became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14) His birth was ignoble and unremarkable. Nobody had room for Him and He came at an uncomfortable time for the city of Bethlehem. Just like He often does for us now...coming at an inconvenient moment when we are forced to make a choice whether to pay attention to Him or miss the opportunity of His visit.
He was born in a barn; the most important birth in the history of the world and nobody noticed. The King of Kings born among animals. Nobody but a few shepherds out in the fields who heard the angels proclaiming the news and came to see Him.
Eight years ago I wrote a similar series of short stories during the Advent season. I was homeless, having lost my career in the crash of 2008. I was a dad. My daughter was living with her mom and her mom had married a man with a terrible chemical problem. My daughter was a daily witness to the abuse that goes along with that sort of life. I could not rescue her, and if I left town to find work she'd be without a protector, so I stayed.
Staying meant, literally, living out of my car. Only eighteen months before, I had been a successful man, with a home and a career. But by December 2009 I had been homeless a little over a year, and Christmas was bearing down on me. My daughter needed me and I needed her. I also needed Jesus. I had been a Christian since age nine, but the events of those eighteen months had worn my Faith to a nub. I needed an Advent on a personal level. I wrote those short stories for her, during the Advent season, but in reality, they were for me. I was broken and battered and needed a return to the manger. I needed to see the baby in the straw and be reminded anew what it was He had come here for, and how He really did come down among us.
I needed an Advent.
Eight Christmases later and here I am: In another state, with a good job working for my Alma Mater, my daughter lives with me and attends college here. She is healing, slowly, from the wounds she received at the hand of her mom's now-second-ex-husband. I never remarried. sometimes I think I know why but in reality...I can't explain it. Looking back, my daughter needed me to be only hers for those painful years. I think, too, that God was isolating me. I had a desert to journey through and it was not a trip to make with a companion. I am working, I am living indoors, I am stronger in my Faith than I was that December morning in 2009 when I wrote the first of those stories. But in many ways I am seeking another Advent this year. I find I am more sentimental this Christmas than usual. That's saying a lot, because I am very sentimental by nature. I am a hopeless romantic and romance isn't always just about love. There is romance in memory. Romance in remembering. Romance in great stories from happy times. In that way, I am most romantic. I miss Christmas. I miss the Sears "Wish Book" and the monorail that carried us above the toy department at the John Wannamaker store in my hometown of Philadelphia. I miss my Grandmother's house and the way the air took a feeling of happiness and joy. I miss the anticipation of being a child at Christmas. I miss the delight of the TV specials and the music on the big console stereo in the living room.
I miss the porcelain Nativity set under the tree. The one with Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph, and the shepherds and the barn animals. I miss looking at the tiny figure in the straw and trying to comprehend how He was God. God in the form of a tiny baby.
I have no idea what became of that Nativity set. When my grandmother passed it went to my mother. I haven't seen it since. But I see it in my heart. I can feel it. I can feel the smoothness of the porcelain and the rough texture of the straw.
Life has taken unexpected turns for me...as it does for all of us at times. In my heart, I am "Clark W. Griswold" and Christmas is my Superbowl. But Christmases never did become what I'd hope they would when I was a boy and dreaming of how Christmas would be one day when I had a family of my own. The picture never developed. Even now...a single dad with a nineteen year old daughter. We decorate far more than two people in a townhouse probably should. But we are both from the same cloth. She is a Christmas lover as I am.
Under all my fantastical dreams through the years, of how Christmas was going to be one day...there was always the Nativity set and the underlying truth that this day -with all it's over driven commercialism and crass marketing-- is still about that baby in the manger. People have tried...Lord have they tried, to make it about everything else but Him. But still He smiles from every twinkling light, He wears every ugly sweater, His is the voice singing harmony to every carol. The world will never succeed in removing Him from this day. Because He is this day. His cry still echoes across the world. 2017 years later, His birth still remains the most significant day in the history of Creation.
This has been a hard year. In April I released a book recounting the six years I spent homeless. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, revisiting all that pain and loss. My daughter and I have been through a lot this year. As Christmas approaches I find myself in desperate need of an Advent again. I need Jesus. In a fresh, renewed, view. Like seeing Him for the first time in that manger.
So I decided to embark on another Advent journey this year. Twenty-Four short stories centering around The Nativity, Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and scenes from childhood. I have little idea what this will look like on Christmas Eve when it wraps up. As I did in 2009, I am not writing these stories in advance. I will write the night before and see what the Holy Spirit might stir up. (In truth, Day one was written yesterday, but nothing else is completed at this moment) The characters in these stories face real-life heartaches. These are not always happy-ending tales, but they all share the hope of the Baby from Bethlehem.
This may also become a book at some point in the future, as my first Advent series became "The Ragamuffin's Christmas." But for now...this is really an Advent calendar. I have no idea what will be behind each door until I open it. I hope there is someone out there in need of an Advent too. Someone who needs Jesus again -or for the first time. I hope these stories bring Him a little closer to all of us.
Merry Christmas to all, and God Bless us...everyone.
December 3, 2017