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Reform Magazine | December 5, 2023

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Commitment-Phobe: Advent challenge, days five and six

Commitment-Phobe: Advent challenge, days five and six

As I write this I am listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas volumes 1-5. These are five LP’s made by the singer for friends and family at Christmas; they include original music and melancholy versions of classic carols. They are all simply orchestrated and were made as a way of expressing, getting over and dealing with what Sufjan calls “That Creepy Christmas Feeling”. “That Creepy Christmas Feeling” relates to a “joyful sadness” that this time brings. I am feeling it in buckets right now. Some years it turns into pure “bah, humbug” and other years it has been numbness alleviated only by the frenetic rounds of pre-Christmas drinks before the obligatory bout of flu on Christmas morning. I have also been the annoying person who starts singing Christmas songs in July and makes her own mince pies and wrapping paper. This year, my fourth Christmas as a mum, my second as a Christian, I feel a little numb, a little bemused, a little depressed. There is so much darkness in the world – there always is – but it seems darker now, when set as a backdrop to all the jollity that adverts, shopping centres and films tell us we should be feeling.

And Advent is weird, isn’t it? I missed this Sunday’s sermon at church, but I think there was going to be some explanation of it. I consulted Google instead: “What does Advent mean?” Apparently it has two significant purposes. The first is the obvious: To wait in expectation of Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth. The second is the expectation of the return of Christ. So for one we celebrate that God chose to become incarnate in the form of a vulnerable and weak baby child. For the other we prepare for Christ to come. Now this preparation is interesting. Some people fast and pray, others take up challenges. You could spend your entire life waiting in this way. Many people have indeed done so for centuries, and still no second visit. So, invariably, you reflect upon your own imperfections and those of this dark world we live in. It’s feels like the fairy lights are not there to brighten the darkness but highlight it.

And in this mood, I have struggled to embrace the Advent challenges of the past few days. Saturday was about focusing on the words we use to help others, the options were:

  • 1: Find a way to encourage someone today
  • 2: Write a note to someone you rarely see
  • 3: Find out how to help tell Bible stories in primary schools

I was feeling pretty low. Christmas is here with its financial expectations which I cannot fulfil, and my joy-to-the-world energy has been worn thin thanks to the bizarre illness-relay my husband and I have been involved in for the last two months. (This month my husband picked up the baton.) On Saturday, I wanted someone to encourage me, and my husband, despite looking the worse for wear, did just that – he gave me time to myself, to finally get the haircut I’d been grumbling about for months. While I was with my hairdresser, my head got a little lighter, physically and metaphorically. My hairdresser was talking to me about struggling to find time to promote her business, and I gave her some marketing strategy tips, which I’ve picked up from listening, again, to my husband (he gets to be a hero twice.) I hadn’t intended to accept the challenge but I guess I encouraged her in her work; I also texted an old friend who I’ve not seen in some time. By the evening, however, my husband was shaking with the fever and bed-ridden; perhaps he should have been the one to get some time off.

Today’s Advent challenges were about going out of your way to help somebody else:

  • 1: Offer to babysit for someone
  • 2: Do the shopping for an elderly neighbour
  • 3: Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in the coffee queue

I did none of these until two hours ago, when I texted a local friend offering to baby-sit for her at some point in the next two weeks. But in all honesty, it was done with a meanness of spirit that left the gesture empty. Each of the options seemed like asking too much of myself today. I tried to reassure myself. I have been doing Christmas shopping on behalf of my mum, I told myself. I am ministering to a feverish man. Still, I was faced with the truth of my own lack of generosity. Am I willing to give more to someone else than I get from them myself?

Earlier in the day I took my daughter to a shop, to buy her a Christmas jumper, and, on the way, we passed a young woman begging; the moment to stop and give her money or talk to her passed and I carried on walking with my daughter. But then I heard a woman behind me say: “That’s naughty.” Was she referring to me? No. She was aiming this at the beggar-woman. I stopped and turned round, gob-smacked as this fellow pedestrian continued with: “Why are you doing that? It’s naughty to beg!” There were so many things I could have said, but as I held the hand of my three year old, for whom I would like to be a hero, it was like I wasn’t there. Shortly after, I thought of all the things I could say and regretted not saying them. But I won’t be doing that again!

Sometimes it is good to fail at things, to see what you lack so you can aim to fill it. There is a joy in knowing that you will do this and sadness in knowing that you need to, “That Creepy Christmas Feeling.”


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