I writhe on the green faux-leather couch. I am the center of a tug-of war-with siblings pulling on my arm and leg, yanking, fighting with each other through my body. The couch’s smooth cover and rigid arms both advance and limit my sliding, this way then that, preventing a decisive win for either side. I, in the end, lose.
A pain sears my arm and disrupts the game. Anger flip to fear, because somebody’s going to get in big trouble. Mother marches tiredly in the room to assess damage and to divine blame. We load into the car and head to the one doctor in town. He diagnoses a sprain, just a hairline fracture from pulls in two directions. I need nothing more than a brace and wrap. My fingers curl around cold steel as my arm is straightened like a board. It feels like a weapon.
We feel tugs-of-war during Advent. On one side, the excitement of discovering the perfect gift, dazzling lights and music give us a heady rush. We look forward to festivities, family, games and concerts. I rummage for the Christmas table cloth and my mouth waters as I consider baking something special like kolaches or pumpkin bread. This is right, I should be joyous. I should celebrate the miraculous birth of a baby. God in the flesh has come here, and his glorious return awaits, my inheritance bides on the horizon. To not rejoice would be an affront considering the amazing gifts I’ve already opened in Christ and the ones anticipated.
On the other side of the tug-of-war rope, we feel the pull of voids and things gone wrong. Instead of friends clinking glasses, parents taking photos, and children rolling around in wrapping paper, the season mocks us like melting wax dripping on us, weighing and searing. Silent ghosts of dead hopes and dead people hover, and their pall makes colors and carols seem too bright, like ads for cars and platters of food. The babe in the manger entered the world in a homeless camp, after all, and his life was threatened, forcing his awkward parents to snatch the child and flee to Egypt. Grown Immanuel walked on dirt and cried like we do.
I’m feeling fractured. Joy and sadness, they both pull, and pull hard. Which way will it go? Reconciliation of two enemies? The two sides will not be satisfied until His final appearing. Meanwhile, I engage in what’s before me, whether that’s to embrace the sadness of those who are too far literally and figuratively to sit across the table or to strip the house of her every-day dress and pull out her party clothes. I need to do both, to shop for presents and to hand out a fast-food gift card to the grimy guy on the corner, though I’m not sure if he’s needy or just advertising so. Does it matter? Am I the arbiter of the rope’s tug? I will pendulum back and forth and leave the winning to God.