We start our Advent practice six days late.
I have been working fifty, fifty-five hour weeks between my two jobs. One I’ve had for a month, the other for two. I just learned how to put in schedule requests at my second, so I work late Saturday nights, driving pizzas, sweeping flour into dustpans, mopping the floor. I get home at eleven-thirty Saturday night, rise at seven on Sunday morning. At seven-thirty, we are out the door.
“Do you want to read some Scripture, pray, light the Advent wreath?” I ask Josh in the evening, after work. We have no Advent wreath, no candles, no matches. We read the passage–Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them–and then we sit in awkward silence. “I don’t know what it’s supposed to be, this Advent practice,” Josh confesses to me later.
We sit down, watch Rudolph, put together the little tree, drink our eggnog. It is 10 pm, after my shift at work. We are tired, but this is the time we have.
It is what it is, I learned to say a few years ago. I don’t know when. I say it with a sigh of acceptance, resignation. And what I mean is this: But it’s not what it should be.
All my favorite bloggers, it seems, have been singing the praise of the imperfect Christmas. It’s odd, I think sometimes, our need to confess, to put the mess out there. But every time I read an article praising the imperfect Christmas, the imperfect home, the imperfect wedding, something tight inside of me untightens just a bit, and I feel just a little more whole.
Our tree is four feet tall. I bought it on sale from Kohl’s during a Black Friday sale. It was $15, pre-lit with lights. The Christmas tree we bought a few years ago is in West Virginia at my mom’s house, along with all our Christmas decorations and some of our home decor. I find ornament how-tos on Pinterest, dehydrate orange slices and hang them as ornaments. They look brownish, like potpourri, not the tiny stained-glass windows that the tutorial showed.
I string together cranberries with needle and thread and thread them on the tree. They feel heavy in my hands, like a string of beads. It is fifty-four seconds until the cat starts to bite them.
As I sit on the couch, the tree shakes back and forth with the curiosity of the cat. The Advent wreath sits unlit on the table since there are still no candles. Or matches.
I turn off the light, and as my eyes unfocus, I can see it clear. I see small, bare branches, beautiful in the dim light. I see cranberry red against pine green. I smell orange in the air. As my eyes begin to close, the lights form halos, hallowing even this tree, four feet tall and plastic. Hallowing even this place.
It is a placeholder, all of it. I shiver as I remember: God in flesh.
I go to prepare a place for you, Jesus said. Maybe he is starting here.
And for a moment, I love what it is. Unfinished, small, beautiful.