Advent is over and Christmas is just beginning. Surprised? This may sound strange as all around us, the decorations come down, the wrapping paper gets recycled along with the turkey and the tree and that unfortunate gift, and we await the new year with its resolutions, sparkling promises and forward momentum. But in the church calendar, Christmastide began on the 25th and stretches all the way into the first week of January.
I find this quirk of church history and calendar quite profound. Christmastide, the season of celebrating and remembering God’s deep love and nearness to us and the world, as well as the embodiment of his saving grace, is essentially an in-between time. A pause. An unscheduled, normal looking, nothing special, just okay time. A quiet moment after the feasting of Christmas, before the resounding, resolute New Year pushes us forward into guilt or action.
I spend most of my life in the in-between these days. Few monumental moments, and many daily routines, going from strength to strength or weakness to weakness depending on my mood and capacity, trying to stay ahead of the next task that needs to be completed. This is the life of a mother of a young child - each hour of the day folds itself into the next, a series of in-betweens. One day, I will be celebrating graduation, weddings, new jobs, but right now, I am changing diapers, doing the same things over again like an endless nursery rhyme, letting the hours pass as we travel from park to nap to cuddle to snack and rarely noticing the tiny, profound transitions that will blossom one day into adulthood.
Life is made of in-betweens, some more uncomfortable than others. Between paycheques, between jobs, between relationships, between meals, between exams, between Monday and Friday, sleepless night and early morning, conflict and resolution, no news and bad, grief and joy.
Our culture dislikes the story of the in-betweens, preferring to celebrate and romanticise the triumphs, the successes, the arrivals. We snapshot the spectacular, and erase from our news feeds and storylines the growing, the quiet learning, the failures, the patience, the slow and almost imperceptible symphony of experience and time and change.
We are in danger of losing our appetite for descriptions of the journey, the passage of time, the moments that are not explosions or plot twists. And technology and consumerism lures us further away from the in-between, seeing it as an annoyance or a problem to be solved. We are taught to expect instant results, quick responses, same day shipping, information on demand. Even the valuable concept of being present and mindful has been twisted into a simple packaging problem instead of a way of being. “Celebrate every moment!” sounds innocuous but it can be a terrifying and exhausting practice if you really attempt to package your whole life into bite-size, always brilliant moments worth celebrating.
On a spiritual level, Christians do have some useful, counter-cultural vocabulary about life as a people in-between suffering and holiness. The concept of “already and not yet” aka the kingdom of God that is somehow available but not yet fully realised is difficult to grasp intellectually, but I know all too well the ache of having tasted goodness and grace and yet somehow still failing miserably as a good person every day and being hurt and dissapointed because we are all still so stubbornly human. This theological tension manifests painfully and fruitfully in our hearts and our imaginations, pulling us towards hope and grounding us again in humility. We are always becoming, not quite arriving.
Enter Christmastide. We’ve done the Advent thing, waited, watched, worshiped, wondered. There is much more to do as the year unfolds and many moments to joyfully celebrate and exquisitely lament. But in-between all those exciting and monumental occasions, there is this weird little moment, this short and oft-ignored season.
This holy, poignant in-between where God draws near and stays near, where Love comes down and lands, where the truth of the gospel appears not at the stroke of midnight or in the grand finale or the first dance, but rather unfolds unceremoniously in the lowly stable, the place of the everyday, the practical, the ho-hum. God is near - while dishes are washed, babies are rocked to sleep, buses are waited for, essays are written, meals are made. We are enfolded in a tender embrace of salvation and love even as we brush our teeth, make or unmake our beds, crawl through traffic, wait in line, blow our noses.
We are met here in our deeply ordinary and unremarkable moments with the most remarkable truth of all - God himself is with us (Matthew 1:23). And Christmastide asks us to make the most of this simply by listening to the voice of Jesus, and letting it truly soak in and transform our in-between lives: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).