This year I decided to sit down with the boys and create a home-made Advent calendar that we taped on their bedroom door. We made 25 individually numbered pieces of paper that, when unfolded, revealed a picture drawn by our older son. This picture was a representation of a story or scripture which we would talk/read about at bedtime. We charted out an anticipatory journey beginning with the expectations laid down by the prophets through the celebratory arrival of Jesus. There were a number of stories that repeated (fun for them, as the boys seem to enjoy it when they can say some of the words before I do). We also tried to incorporate some songs that would connect with the stories as singing is part of our bedtime routine. We didn't read every single one on the day of its intent. We skipped a couple, we did a few in one day, etc.
This little pedagogical instrument was useful for us as well. It made us more thoughtful and intentional about having conversations with the boys about Jesus coming into our world. We'd see something on television, hear something in a lesson at church, notice some chance occurrence while out and about. We certainly didn't talk theology all month as we wandered through prayer gardens, though. There were lost tempers, punishments doled out, apologies given (on both sides), frustrations shared, impatience achieved, etc. But this little makeshift Advent calendar made us think about how to share the story of God Made Flesh during the daily quotidian mysteries of parenthood.
One thread that held this year's Advent together was the theme of light. It started the first official night of Advent (Sun, Nov 27) when I plugged the Christmas lights in on the house. We stood out in the yard and looked at them. The boys were reminded of how these lights can symbolize that Jesus is the light that has come into the world to chase away the darkness. At this stage it felt like rote, sundayschoolesque knowledge; "Jesus is the light of the world" easily rolled off their tongues when prompted with the right questions.
Here and there we talked about darkness and light as metaphors for something else. After visiting my grandmother in Nashville we spoke about the darkness of Alzheimers. G.G. didn't fully recognize her great-grandsons nor me, her grandson. Even though she was a very delightful, kind lady to spend time with, it was heartbreaking. Darkness indeed. When we were driving away we spoke to them about the Light of God to which we plead "Come!" so that it will do away with darkness like sickness and disease. This is a darkness that is robbing such a special woman of those things most precious to her, her family.
Light, please come and cast out this darkness!
There were also places to talk of eager, hope-filled anticipation of the Light present in the world.
When we worshipped with our small group a refrain in our prayers was from John about the "light of the world", when we gathered with our church family on Christmas Eve we ended with everyone holding a lit candle encircling the darkened auditorium. There were other songs that we'd hear that revealed the power of God's light - lyrics I'd never paid attention to before now coming alive to me.
All along I was not sure if this was sinking in or not. I was not confident that the removal of each story card wasn't exciting simply because it meant Santa's arrival was closer.
Tonight was a flicker of evidence that seeds have been taking root and not just passing over their little bodies or hovering in the air.
As we prepared for bed we read the last two Advent stories (because we missed the day before) and then sang Here I am to Worship which begins with "Light of the world you stepped down into darkness..."
After that Holly prayed over our family and our world for God to dispel the darkness and to make us agents of light. As she prayed these powerful images over us the wheels in Lucas' imagination began to turn. He interrupted the prayer with this:
"It's like God has a factory that takes in all the darkness and turns it into light." (The hand motions and corresponding facial expressions he was making as he envisioned this transforming process were priceless!)
As this was the honest theological reflection of a 6 year old, we had to let his creativity keep running as we talked a little bit about what he'd said. We told him that the Kingdom is just that, a factory for turning darkness into light. We affirmed that this is essentially what God does and what God wants us to do - recycle darkness and turn it into light.
I prayed, "God take the darkness out of our world"
And he freely responded, "And turn it into light."
I prayed, "God take the darkness out of my life"
And he responded, "And turn it into light."
A little impromptu liturgy before bedtime. A rare treat indeed.
Part planned, part fortuitous, all providential, this moment was the result of ideas, conversations, songs, stories, prayers, etc. that marinated in his little heart and mind for over a month. And what will make this matter is that it was his idea, his words, his language, his imagination that created it. We certainly spoke into his life, we certainly aimed to form Him, but what will powerfully determine the shape of both of our boys' lives - as well as our own - are those expressions of the Kingdom that break forth from the soil of our own imaginations.
And this particular relationship between light and darkness is a new angle for me. I have thought of the light destroying the darkness...
...or dispelling it
...or chasing it away
...or defeating it
...or erasing it
...or creeping in on its territory
But this is the first time I have considered light as the transformed expression of recycled darkness.
But isn't that a more honest way of how it goes down?
Any light that emanates from my life is not the result of darkness removed and replaced by something radically different. Any light in my life is the result of my own darknessess being taken up by God and His reworking, remolding, renewing, and recycling of them so that they become light.
Just for fun. Here is one of Lucas' story card drawings from the calendar:
It is Mary. No, she is not smoking a joint. The line going up from her folded hands is her prayers rising up to God. We had talked to him about prayer candles one time and how the smoke rising up symbolizes the pryers of the saints rising up from them. This was his amalgamation of all those thoughts.
Light, please come and transform the darkness in our world. Begin with the darkness in me!