How do you know that Advent has begun? Is it the joy of eating that first piece of chocolate in the advent calendar? Is it when that first candle is lit in worship? Is it a particular hymn or a family tradition that makes it clear that Christmas is coming and we are faithfully waiting?
For me, Advent begins by unpacking the nativity. I’m not sure if it was originally a clever tactic designed to keep me occupied or if it was a carefully thought out exercise in Christian formation, but every year, it was my job. There was the wooden nativity, tiny enough to fit in my pocket. Over the years, the donkey wandered away, Joseph was repurposed for a school diorama, and the shepherd’s face faded; but they were always there on top of the box waiting. Underneath it was the real treasure. Each piece wrapped like a present. I would sit for hours, freeing each and every figure. There were camels, a herd of sheep, a glorious Mary decked in brilliant blue robes, a wise Joseph standing guard, bowing kings with shiny gold paint reflecting the light, rugged shepherds, and a tiny baby Jesus—so small I had to be careful that he wasn’t lost amongst the boxes.
I’m not sure when the shift happened, but at some point I went from asking my parents about each figure—to telling the story myself. Unpacking the figures let me live into the story of the Christ Child, and it still does. As I was unpacking my nativities this year, I had to put aside the shiny ornaments, the lights, and the ribbon to get to them. I had to dig for a few moments, until I found all the pieces. But there they were, waiting for the story to be told again.
There is no warning or grand pause before Advent arrives, but now that it is here, we have the opportunity to make these days holy. Sometimes in simple acts of preparation, in the lighting of a candle, in whispered stories repeated again and again, and sometimes even in old newspaper wrapped around cherished objects; these little acts set this time apart. They help us search and ultimately find Christ in a busy season.
I pray for peace, hope, joy and love to abound in all of those sacred moments.