He sits next to me in the car on another mild-December day. We’ve abandoned coats for light jackets, but I wear a scarf in protest. It’s December in New Jersey after all. Christmas music, the traditional station my kids think sounds too much like big-band jazz, plays in the background. The music is the reason my car battery died in the lacrosse parking lot ten minutes earlier, while I sat waiting for my son. When the music stopped abruptly, I looked around and saw one other car with its lights on. I walked across the parking lot, and I asked a guy sitting in a Tesla for a jump. He hid a smile when he told me his car is electric, and I shuffled back to my mini-van a little amused and a little embarrassed. I found a good Samaritan sitting in a Mercedes, and asked him to help me.
After the jump, we drive home through neighborhoods lit with colored trees, garland strung in loops across picket fences, and one home outlined in white lights like a gingerbread house from a fairytale. My son turns the air conditioning on, and he tells me, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas this year, Mom.” He’s just not feeling it. I suggest it’s the weather. The busy schedule. The full days of school leading straight up to Christmas day. He shakes his head.
Earlier in the day, we decorated gingerbread houses. My husband baked cookies. We played the music, lit the tree, burned the Christmas scented candle. In spite of the busyness, we’ve created the usual holiday atmosphere at home. What can it be, I ask him? He doesn’t know, he grasps for the words to describe his feeling, but finds nothing there.
I look at his man-sized feet taking up space next to me, and I ask him if maybe he’s outgrowing the magic. As I listen to his voice crack while we talk about his thirteenth Christmas holiday, I remember the long season of adolescence when the wonder and delight of childhood stalls and turns over. When you need someone to bring the child inside you back to life, when you need something other than sarcasm and peer pressure to fuel your sense of astonishment and wonder. When presents bring a short spark of happiness, but you’re doubtful about the promise of Emmanuel offering everlasting peace, love, joy.
As I think on these things, with the man-child in the seat next to me, I realize I’m the one who typically feels drained of life this time of year, worrying about presents over presence. Celebrating Advent in my own mixed-up, hodgepodge way has brought my sense of amazement and joy in this season back to life. It has saved Christmas from being consumed by commercialism and my own heart from becoming jaded and false. Advent has brought reverence and true joy back into my celebration.
I look at the kid. I see the way his eyes smile at the sight of the homes lit up in fairy lights, but I also see the cynicism growing underneath. Later, as we sit around the dining room table, I read aloud Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. I read of angels and promises and wombs filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. He pretends not to listen, but when I question him, he repeats the story back to me verbatim. And somewhere deep inside that adolescent heart of his, I see something catch a spark of life, I see a flicker.