Advent: Jesus, anyway.

Mass started eight minutes ago.

We are still fifteen minutes away, barreling churchward at maximum velocity and talking minivan exit and parking lot strategy when I realize I’ve forgotten the book I was supposed to bring to teach my first grade class. I’ve already cried once in the car (when I realized I’d forgotten the baby sling in which I’d hold him while I taught those first graders) but it doesn’t stop me from tearing up again.
George kindly asks how he can help, and I can’t think of a single thing he can do. I’m all quavery and flushed and apologetic and just so frustrated with my performance today.

When am I going to get it together?

Being late and forgetting things makes me feel incompetent, as if I’m not doing a good job managing my responsibilities, as if I’m lacking, somehow.

George parks and we tumble out, all undone zippers and mussed hair and missing left shoes, gasping at how cold the wind is. He runs the twins downstairs to their classes for children’s church. I find seats for myself, Sam and Felix at the back of the church, under the nose of a Mary statue that is sometimes judgy. Today, she just looks downcast, like she feels sorry for me. I can’t figure out how to take off my coat and hold the baby at the same time, so I just leave it on. We catch the tail end of the Alleluia and then hear the deacon proclaiming that one is coming after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 

Saint John the Baptist. Fellow unworthy one. He’s not what they want or expect him to be. Today his words are an admission that forces the truth upon me, snatching my breath like the brutal air in the parking lot.

My deepest, darkest fear is that I’m inadequate. My overwhelming, terrifying dread is that I’m not enough and that someone else will be able to see it. Glancing around, I jiggle the baby to distract him from squealing. The pregnant woman and her toddler…can they see it? The father and his school-aged son who keeps kicking the wall? How about the young girl that keeps walking in front of us, busily typing something on her pink phone?

When they look at me, do they see all the cracks? Can they guess that I’m about to come unglued? I quietly gaze up at the faces on the stained glass windows and try to swallow the lump in my throat, but inside, I’m telling myself to get a grip.

By this point, we are all turning and offering each other the sign of peace. Suddenly, I’m looking into the eyes of all the people I’d been sizing up just moments ago.

Jesus said, “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you.” Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church…

Look not on our sins, Jesus. Look not on our cracks, our chips, the tangled, messy strands of our lives. Because whether or not other people can see them, you certainly can.

“Peace be with you,” I find myself saying, pressing hands and patting arms. “Peace.”

Not one pair of eyes that meets mine holds judgement. Not one hand squeezes harshly. Peace. And that’s it, isn’t it? We are all doing this, he and she and they and you and I…my deepest fears and their silent heartache and your dearest longings are all winding together toward the altar to receive him right in the middle of our mess. Our shared disaster. Our wrecked attempts to somehow do everything right and hold everything together. It’s only when things start really crumbling and falling apart that we are forced to admit what a train wreck it all really is. That we aren’t enough. That we never can be. And that somehow despite that, because of that, even, we are worth his life. He still wants us. Always and even so and still.

Come, Lord Jesus.

We really aren’t ready…or worthy…to receive you. We can’t be, no matter how many Advents we plan and execute. But we offer ourselves, what we have, as imperfect as it is. It’s yours. And since you saw fit once to be born in a stable, perhaps you can overlook our mess (which is always there no matter how hard we try to get it together) and be born here anyway. Here, with us.

Emmanuel, God-mid-mess, the one who comes and sits with us, no matter how long it’s been since we vacuumed…we need you.

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