We pray with our sons about waiting for Christ at Christmas and listening for His voice or feeling His presence. "What does He sound like? How will I know He's talking to me?" they ask. It's difficult to answer. I haven't felt God's presence in a long time.
I think back and remember times I did feel close to God, and try and depend on those moments the same way I look back at old photos and try and remember happy moments from my childhood, or a friendship now gone sour. I sing Christmas carols hoping that they spark something; that they conjure up God's presence, just as my boys sit in Advent expecting Christ to show up.
A couple years ago, with no memory of Christmas past, my oldest listened intently to an Advent reading my husband read aloud at dinner. When he was finished and we began eating, our son said, matter-of-factly, "When Jesus comes at Christmas, I am going to give Him a big hug!" My husband and I looked at one another, confused, and then realized how the language of the Church had confused our then 4-year-old. He expected Christ to come at Christmas, that we would all celebrate together.
I want that faith. I think of the Anne Lamott quote: "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up." This is my faith, a stubborn one.
So, I sing Christmas carols, day and night. I recently went for a morning walk at 5 a.m. It was still dark. There are a few strings of Christmas lights hung at the end of the block. I start to hum a tune in the darkness. "O, morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth." As I look out into the dark sky still dotted with stars, I imagine how much darker it was that night. There were no city lights. No Christmas lights.
As I sing "O Holy Night" to myself, the line, "Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth" shoots through me. I have always loved the Peter Gabriel song "Mercy Street," and the line, "She pictures a soul with no leak at the seam." My heart aches. I want that wholeness.
I attempt to lighten my mood by singing, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," switching my walk to a march in keeping the time. "To save us all from Satan's power when we have gone astray." Oh, dear. My soul answers in prayer, "Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above."
I am longing for Christmas Day, when the archbishop flings open the main doors to the cathedral, and we will sing: "Yea, Lord we greet Thee, born this happy morning. Jesus, to Thee be glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing." A sweet release. So, I stubbornly sing, hoping to conjure Him up through these magic words. Christ is coming. And I'm going to give Him a big hug.