Having access to a small child during Christmas is a Christmas miracle in and of itself. The leap is short from bored to ecstatic, from tired to all-in for another cookie, from uncomfortable to totally delighted by the wonder of it all. I treasure watching kids love all of it, and I am very lucky to have a 2 year old, who imitates our excitement while somehow showing us how to live during Advent. She has no clue who Santa is, but she loves to steal Baby Jesus’ from every manger scene she can reach. She has no idea why people keep offering her “tandies” and “tookties” (she is not what I would call “crushing it” in the speech department), but she greets each opportunity as if it is the first and maybe last time anyone will ever offer her a tasty treat again. She enters each negotiation as if her life and joy depend on her ability to get that Christmas goodness into her mouth as soon as possible.
My favorite part of parenting this Advent though, has been the way she has become my own personal Hark!-er. Every time her eye glimpses anything that could be loosely associated with Christmas, she squeals and points and too loudly announces, “Isstmass!” Decorative lights, Christmas trees, large yard camels (where do they all come from?), presents, abundant plates of food, pianos, Santa hats, animated tv shows, sweaters (festive or just ugly), the smell of apple cider…she greets all of it with the cry of Isstmass! Walking through the world with my own little angel intent on announcing the presence of joyful things has been utterly delightful this month.
It has also been a helpful reminder that there are signs of Christmas all around, and perhaps we would all do well to pay better attention. In honor of my speech-impeded, cookie-hogging, Jesus-stealing daughter, this week I offer my own sightings of Isstmass, in hopes that you can also begin to notice the Christmas miracles around you.
A dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 months ago, and after 2 difficult surgeries, multiple drains, weeks isolated in bed, she is up again, the heart and soul of her family, a picture of compassion to so many others, celebrating Hanukkuh with deep gratitude for the everyday chaos of life. A picture of Isstmass!
A young woman came over for dinner last week, struggling through a long day full of bad news. As she sat at our table and said she would be taking a break from college in order to get a job and work on her own mental health, she was full of hope. She has worked so hard to stay in counseling and find the right meds, and last week I saw the foundation of hope and health she has been laying all these months. Her bad day did not wreck her, and that looked an awful lot like Isstmass to me.
I saw a group of people, distinct in race, class, denomination, gender and zip code, come together to plan and host a conference on the injustices many marginalized folks of Nashville face. The planning was slow and messy, and some walked away, but those of us who stayed got to see a picture of the Kingdom of God…what it is and what it could be if the people of God would commit to loving their neighbors with the same extravagant love they reserve for themselves. Felt like Isstmass.
A friend took dinner to a family shelter serving homeless folks in Nashville. She and her kids were thankful for the time they spent talking and playing with these kids and their parents. In fact, she was so moved by the courage of the families there that she called me to say, “Let’s throw a Christmas party where people bring items for the apartments these families will one day have.” She decided to use her sphere of influence to create joy and to surround vulnerable people with support. She radiates Isstmass.
My college students prepared presentations on their time volunteering in various Nashville non-profits, and as they reflected on their own biases, they were able to see their privilege, the injustice of the status quo for so many others, and begin to ponder how they can be advocates and allies for others. Isstmass.
I saw the people of Alabama refuse to give more power to a man known to manipulate young girls with his influence…even if it cost them politically and maybe financially. Isstmass.
I saw a friend who does not have a job, but is busy doing the work of God’s kingdom in the meantime. He is not consumed with worry for his future, but with a commitment to be a man who lives and talks and looks and acts like Jesus in his world. Isstmass.
I saw families celebrating birthdays, laughing together and loving each other even amidst great differences in the way they see (and vote in) the world. Isstmass.
I saw a couple who shared a deeply painful and exposing story with a group at church be met with empathy, gratitude, connection and love. Isstmass.
I saw someone apologize for his behavior even though he was still shaking with anger and sadness at the situation which warranted his wrath. Isstmass.
I saw my children “fight the greed!” that can creep in this time of year, when promises are made to grant their every desire. Isstmass.
Advent is a time to reflect on the coming of a Messiah who will rescue and restore the world to God, justifying all, removing shame and bringing a life of flourishing. The promised one was to be called Emmanuel, or “God with us.” This Christmas, look around and notice all the ways that God is, indeed, wonderfully, with us. With us in struggle and disappointment and fear and lack, and surely with us in lives saved, in mental health restored, in hope, in courage, in empathy, in compassion and in living a life where looks of “Wonder!” and cries of “Isstmasss!” are too many to count.