This morning our six-year-old son climbed into bed with us and asked when we'd be putting our Christmas tree up. I replied probably not for a few weeks, which is when our daughter joined in, saying that lots of people have theirs up already. Which is true. I sighed inwardly.
Gone are the days when we could say that Christmas decorations wouldn't happen until after our son's birthday in the middle of the month. The excitement is building at a frenetic pace. They have been counting each day towards the start of advent – for the advent calendar chocolate of course.
I love Christmas. I love the preparations, the waiting, the build up of excitement, the putting up of decorations, the time spent devising menus. I love being involved in the music for carol services, watching our children's excitement as they prepare for the nativity play. But, if I'm honest, I also struggle with the stress.
I see the start of Advent, and know that it's a time of reflection – and I long to have the time and space to really enjoy it. However, I'm sad to say, the busyness of life so often crowds in as I rush to finish deadlines before the kids break up from school.
At this point in our calendar I'm focused most on getting our son's birthday party celebrations organised, with the ever-growing list of jobs to do for Christmas weighing on my mind.
Even among all the activity, though, I can sense a longing in my soul. I am desperate to connect, to find the deeper meaning in this season. And I am desperate for our family's experience of Advent to go beyond chocolate and calendars.
I am drawn to rediscover the meaning of waiting this Advent. Drawn to the character of Mary, and what this time meant for her. When we first meet her in the gospels she seems like a vulnerable young woman; betrothed to a respectable man in her neighbourhood. But one visit from an angel changes everything.
Mary's response to that angel, after a few somewhat understandable questions, is simply 'I am the Lord's servant... May your words to me be fulfilled.' (Luke 1:38) Incredible. I could never be that calm.
After visiting Elizabeth, Mary creates what is often referred to as the Magnificat, her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55). Through it she reveals she understands the way that God has blessed her for a special purpose. Mary recognises that God is a champion for the poor and oppressed too, and that God is fulfilling His promises to Abraham (and Israel) through what is to take place.
Whenever I look at those verses I am always taken aback. Granted, Mary has had a visitation from an angel, who has taken the time to explain things to her. Elizabeth has also recognised that the baby inside of Mary is the Lord so Mary has someone she can talk freely with. But still...
While Mary herself recognises she is highly favoured, she's also in a time of waiting that is filled with so many unknowns. Will Joseph stand by her? If he does, will their society cast them out? And then, once the census was decreed, how will she cope with the long journey to Bethlehem and where will she give birth? (I'm sure that the idea of a stable never once entered her head!) What would her son be like? How would He make Himself known as the Messiah?
So many questions, yet the biblical account doesn't reveal much about Mary's state of mind. There seems to be a peace amongst the anticipation while the reality must have been messy, and deeply painful, at times. What surrounds this part of the Christmas story for me is stillness and patience; the atmosphere thick with pregnant hope.
While I pause for a moment to reflect and write this, I pray that I too can find that stillness and patience. That I too can look forward to the coming celebrations with hope, not allowing the stress and busyness that can so easily accompany this season to rob me of the precious gift behind it all.