The day before Thanksgiving, a small package arrived at my door. I didn’t find it until after my children had gone to bed, so without much thought, I set it on the table before I went to bed myself.

The next morning, I was awakened to the sound of my 5-year old daughter’s squeals. She discovered her and her brother’s names on the small package and was running from room to room shouting, “Mama… wake up! A package! Nick… wake up! A package.”

While I was still half asleep and not really sure what she was so elated about, we all made our way downstairs. It turned out to be the chocolate-filled Advent calendar Uncle Jim and Aunt Celeste send to my kids every year.

About an hour (and three cups of coffee) later, I found myself smiling at my daughter’s exuberance over the not-so-mysterious package on the table. In spite of being isolated from friends and family throughout 2020, in spite of the difficulties of Nontraditional Instruction (NTI) online school, in spite of Covid visiting our household, and in spite of not being able to do many things children look forward to, my daughter’s joy was boundless.

In this small-package moment, I was reminded how much more my children have to teach me than I do them, which is often the case. In spite of the difficulties of this year, when given an opportunity to embrace joy, children grab joy with both hands and twirl around until they are dizzy with it. In spite of the difficulties of this year, given an opportunity to embrace hope, children greet hope with sparkling eyes and wild imaginations.

Typically during the Advent season I would be encouraging Christians to enter into quiet reflection and prayerful expectation as our pre-Christmas story unfolds. However, like everything else that is different about 2020, Advent feels to me like a time to be intentional about reclaiming joy and hope. Advent feels like a time to shift our attention off of the difficulties and tragedies of 2020 and onto moments that help us relearn how to dance around with hope and joy. This Advent feels like a great time to reflect on this passage from Luke:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
  for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

                                                                             Luke 1:76-79 NIV

As adults, we’ll want to be sad or bitter or angry about who we can’t see or be with this Christmas. All of these feelings are okay and worthy of feeling completely; but don’t live in these sad, angry and bitter homes. Practice moving into homes where gratitude and creativity live instead. Be “Santa.” Buy or make presents and leave them on random doorsteps around town. Mail Fair Trade gifts to family members and friends and let them know they are coming so your family member/friend can anticipate them. Bake cookies and put a plate of them on your neighbors’ doorsteps. Read children’s books about the coming of Christmas – even if you don’t have children! Put a reindeer (real or imaginary) in your front yard and name it. Drive around town and score people’s Christmas lights. Then put a thank you note on the door of the “winner.”

We have a lot of work to do in 2021 to address the needs of the world. Let us prepare for this work by using this time of Advent to remind ourselves what it feels like to be Christians, to be people of peace, love, joy and hope. And, when Christmas arrives at your door this year, in spite of all the trial and difficulties of 2020, pick up peace, love, joy and hope and twirl around until you are dizzy with them.

With sparkling eyes and a wild imagination,