We light this candle as a symbol of joy: O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Having struggled with significant depression and anxiety in my life, I know all too well what it means to long for a joy that feels far beyond my reach. There is a lot about the increasing darkness and the weather related isolation that draws many of us into that downward spiral. Depression is real, but the darkness that we plummet into when we are in a depressive episode is not. Darkness does not have essence. It is in fact the absence of light. Not that it matters when you can’t see or feel the light.
I don’t pretend to believe that I won’t find myself lost in that fog again in my life, but today there are many things that I find joy in. With the presence of a toddler as a regular part of my life, there are moments when I feel overwhelmed by my daughter’s ability to experience pure unadulterated joy.
In Matthew’s Gospel account, we read that “Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (18:2-3).”
I don’t want to over simplify Jesus’ message here – to become like children – but there is so much about this Advent season of preparation that I am discovering anew through the eyes of a two-year old. Making an Advent wreath this year, I wondered what it was like for her to take in the smells of the greenery, to lose herself in the lighting and extinguishing of the “pretty colored” candles, and to count off the days in anticipation of Jesus’ birth on the homemade felt Advent calendar. As she whispers the words “Look daddy, daddy look, Jesus born”, she points emphatically to the miniature nativity that was my grandmother’s. They may not be fully formed sentences yet, but she seems to get it in a way that my theologically trained mind does not. The manger is empty for now, but Jesus is coming. She feels it. She knows it.
And it’s not just my kid. I loved watching the children at Epiphany last week in awe of St. Nicholas as he lumbered around the building lost in joy himself. I loved seeing photos of my family taking part in Sancta Lucia celebrations here in Baltimore and across the Atlantic in Sweden (and singing the traditional songs along with them quietly to myself). I loved sharing in Hanukkah traditions with our neighbors and watching our kids engage in cross cultural practice around the candle light. I loved watching children from our church and the Epiphany Early Learning Center interact with the large stone nativity figurines as they make their way from different directions across the property, and hearing stories from their parents about how they wonder and imagine as they find themselves walking through the scene.
More than anything though I loved watching my daughter dance with joy as she playfully reenacted scenes from the Nutcracker with reckless abandon. You see I don’t dance – at least not very well, but when she reached out her hand in angelic glee, crying out “daddy dance”, I have no choice but to acquiesce.
It is through her joy, as it penetrates my hardened heart, that I find myself closer and closer to God. It is by attempting to see things as this or any precious child of God does that I discover anew a sense of wonderment, anticipation and presence. Become like children. It’s a simple practice, when we put our mind to it.
What are the ways that you are being called to become again like a little child? What are the rituals that hold memory and emotion for you and awaken you in recognition and remembrance? What are ways that you are making space in your life – in this season of Advent? What are ways that you are preparing yourself to discover anew the miracle of the incarnation?
As we wait with joy, our focus sharpening on the light that pierces the darkness, we call out: O come, O come, Emmanuel.