It doesn’t look like an Advent wreath, I agree. It has none of the traditional greenery, fresh and piney. It has only one squat candle in place of four gracefully lovely tapers. It does not have the decorative pinecones or ribbons or glitter or faux snow that one finds on other, superior Advent wreaths made by crafty-er women than I.
But it’s still an Advent wreath, and it was the best I could do at six o’clock on the first Sunday of Advent. It represents the labors of my husband, who gamely stopped what he was doing and hauled large Sterilite bins of Christmas decorations down from the rafters of the garage so I could find the little gold circlet for the candles. It represents the labors of yours truly, who dug through ornaments and Nativity sets while the kitchen timer was going off, hissing at the kids, “No! We are not decorating for Christmas yet!” as my son started pulling nutcrackers exuberantly out of the bins. The turkey meatballs got overcooked as I searched in vain for the Advent candles, only to be reminded by my husband that I threw them out last year when, after years of use, they were bending outward in banana-like curves, which is disconcerting, especially when they are lit.
The wreath represents last –minute scrambling, in other words, which pretty much defines my life these days.
But you know what? It all turned out fine. I found an old purple Yankee Candle under a thin layer of dust on the back of the TV armoire, and I pressed it into service (“At least we only need one candle,” Scott said.) With a helpful little book of Advent reflections and two willing boys to read it (actually, one willing boy and one who was more interested in making a telescope out of paper with which to view the flame), we all four gathered around the table for a few moments of quiet candlelit reflection redolent of Garden Sweetpeas, which I know is not a traditional Advent smell but which is nice all the same.
And I thought about how, so often, life presents us with a choice. We don’t have the time or resources to do something perfectly, so we have to choose either to do it imperfectly, or not to do it at all. And it is mighty tempting to choose the second option.
I fall into that way of thinking, often not just during Advent. I don’t have lots of time to spend on writing a letter to a sick relative, so I don’t send one, when in reality a few simple lines on a card would mean a great deal to her. I’m too tired to sit down for a long session of prayer, so I skip it entirely, even though a brief decade of the rosary or a few quiet moments in God’s presence would mean a lot to God, and even to me.
Advent is just starting, and I know that – like every Advent prior to this one – I won’t be able to engage with it as fully and completely as I would like. But rather than making that a reason to write off the season entirely, I am going to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and good is good enough. My Advent evening prayers may be brief and I may fall asleep while doing them, but I am going to do them all the same and forgive myself when I nod off. My Advent wreath may be spare and bare, but we’re going to light it anyhow. We may not be able to gather around the wreath every single night for a family prayer, but we will do it on Sunday at least, and the gathering and praying, imperfect as it may be, will be holy.
Because at the heart of all Advent traditions is the desire to prepare for the birth of the Savior, a baby who came into this world in the most humble, imperfect, non-Pinterest-y way possible. He was a baby whose parents had to cobble things together as best they could, in that cold unfriendly foreign place, and yet – in the end – all that mattered was the encounter with Love incarnate.
May that truth guide me this Advent, and beyond.