Reclaiming Advent: The Year Two Report

(Setting: the kitchen at my parents’ farm, three days before Christmas. 

Me: Alex, I need you to think back. What was your favorite thing that we did for Advent this year?

Alex: Going to Grandma and Grandpa Basi’s house.

Me: What? That trip? [The unspoken volumes cover twelve hours on the road, vomiting in the car, power struggles over food and a spanking.] That was your favorite part of Advent?

Alex: I like playing with Grandma and Grandpa’s toys.

Obviously, 4 ¾ is too young an age to reflect on an entire season’s worth of activities. Three weeks ago is ancient history.

Advent is ending; every door on the calendar hangs open, and Baby Jesus rests now in the manger beneath the tree.

And yet yesterday, as Alex carried his brand new Transformer from his Grandparents Sander around my childhood home, I thought, You know what? It’s okay with me, that it’s all about his presents.

This week, I finally cleared out my other assignments so I could concentrate on writing for Liguori, and as I typed, I came to a realization: for kids, the overriding theme of the season will always be what they are getting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My first Advent calendar list was heavy on fun—an imbalance I tried to correct this year. We helped with two segments of the Giving Tree instead of one; we asked for canned goods as we went around Christmas caroling, and so on. And this year, Alex began noticing the men who stand beside the highway. So when we delivered the canned goods to the homeless shelter, we made sure he helped us carry them inside.

And yet he didn’t really get it. After all, everything he needs is given to him by someone else, so he couldn’t process what made those men’s lives different from his. He doesn’t really understand how anyone could actually be without a home. Early in Advent, he asked about the man who was begging beside the highway exit. Christian tried to explain it, and Alex kept listing all kinds of people to take care of the man: his mommy, his daddy, his grandparents. He never really got that that man had nowhere to go.

I think there probably are kids who “get it”—but only those who are themselves in desperate need. For those blessed with stable homes and families, however flawed and broken, the reality of poverty is too distant to process. Look at us as adults. How often do we really process poverty? It makes us uncomfortable. We turn our heads, we refuse to make eye contact, we pretend we don’t notice them.

Still, I would imagine that the lesson of service will take root over time. Especially if I don’t try to overexplain it. So it’s okay. For now, we can all enjoy the fun of a secular Christmas, knowing that faith is expressed by works, and works lead us to faith.