Incarnation, Gratitude, and Light
And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory. –John 1:14
Happy (liturgical) New Year! Advent and Christmas are my favorite seasons of the year and always have been. Some Episcopalians like to say that we are Easter people, but I really think that we are Advent people – incarnational in our faith and in our outlook and view of the world. Maybe I believe that because gratitude requires us to be incarnational. Gratitude demands that we pay attention and see God’s presence in the world around us. Gratitude is the simple act of really looking for the light in the darkness, of believing that God would be so surprising as to show up as a baby in a manger thousands of years ago and that God might be also showing up in the kindness of a stranger at Costco.
Let me explain. Recently, I took my three-year-old girls to Costco after we said goodbye to their dad before he headed to the airport for a work trip. I thought Costco would be a good distraction – typically it’s one of their favorite errands to run because Costco has lots of things to look at and food samples. Shortly after getting there, Carrie had a meltdown. The meltdown was loud and prolonged. It had been a long day, and I could feel that I didn’t have the reserves to get us through the meltdown. So, I begged her to stop screaming. Then she hit Lucy. I told her that was unacceptable, and the screaming got louder. I told her we would leave and not buy any of the things in our cart (it was full of things she wanted at the moment and none of the things I needed, so I didn’t really want to leave), and that didn’t dissuade her screaming. I felt desperate and wished that the world would open up and swallow me whole as I was hunched over, eye to eye with my angry child. Then, an older woman reached out and grabbed my arm and simply said, “They grow up,” and walked away. At first, I felt judged, because often when folks say this they mean, “Aren’t your children adorable and well behaved? It’s sad how they grow up so fast, so you better enjoy them now.” This woman’s words triggered the reality that I wasn’t enjoying being a mom in that moment and that I was angry with my small person. I wasn’t grateful for any of it. I was particularly ungrateful that the world didn’t swallow us whole before this lady pointed out how I wasn’t enjoying this moment of parenting bliss at Costco. I stood up, took a deep breath, and thought about what might be causing the meltdown. As soon as Carrie got four samples of pound cake, we were okay for the rest of our trip. Turns out she was “hangry” – a genetic condition in our family that affects all of us from time to time. Tantrum ended, we moved on, but I was still feeling ashamed at the woman’s words.
As I pushed the cart past Christmas decorations and we marveled at how beautiful they were, another older woman stopped us to say how good the girls were. Clearly, she got to Costco after we had pound cake. But it made me realize how thankful I was for the first woman. Her simple words helped me step out of the fight with Carrie and helped me see that this moment would pass. That woman was a little light in my darkness. She reminded me that the world will never open up and swallow us whole, but in those moments when we really want it to, we aren’t alone. She saw that I was doing my best, that I was embarrassed, and that I desperately wanted Carrie to stop making a scene. She saw that I needed someone to turn the light on in my shame storm and acknowledge that toddlers are tough at times, but that they will grow out of this (and into something else) and we’ll all be okay – including the other customers at Costco. When we become incarnational people, Advent people, we have to look around for where light is needed in the world and be that light. We also have to look around in our darkest moments to find the light. St. Francis of Assisi said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the flame of a single candle,” and he’s right. Even in the darkest of times, the light of Christ will still shine. We only have to look for it, to try and be it, and to hope that enough of us will so we can overcome the darkness.
Advent is a time to remember and give thanks for the light of Christ coming into the world, being born this year (and every year) in our hearts. We need to remember that we are the light that the darkness cannot extinguish and continue to fight for justice, peace, hope, and goodness in our world. We need to be the light in times that seem small or huge. We need to be the light for the mom struggling at the store; for refugees; for those being persecuted for their religion; for the widows, orphans, and poor in this world. Advent is just 21 days this year, 504 hours to acknowledge the darkness and to pray for Jesus to be born into our hearts again so that the light might shine through us, in the midst of us, and in spite of us. Thank you for all of the ways that you let the light of Christ shine in your heart and through your words, actions, and life. Thank you for all the ways you remind the world that the darkness will not extinguish our hope and that we were made for love and to be loved.