Advent has changed.
We no longer do the things that were designed to help little ones step outside themselves as they quiver and count down the days to Christmas. Things like daily thank-you notes deposited in the Jesus stocking, or pieces of yarn (for every corporal or spiritual work of mercy) dropped in a manger, to make it soft for Baby Jesus. No one wants to dress up as St. Lucia on her feast day anymore (although, of course we still make that heavenly bread) and there are no fights over who will light the candles on the Advent wreath.
We still have a Jesse Tree, and Atticus still reads accompanying stories aloud to us on the nights when we have dinner together, but schedules are busy, and we inevitably miss days. I don't go back to pick up missed readings anymore. Everyone knows the major stories, the Scriptures that tell the story of salvation history. The Jesse Tree did its job all those years.
Some things, of course, will never change. Chocolate and Advent calendars will always be here, and none of us will ever be too old for our favorite Advent books. But these days, we also talk about who's read the latest installment of Bishop Barron's Advent reflections, about what kind of Advent resolution we've made, about going to confession. The other day we discussed the way Advent Scripture readings focus on the last things, and about whether or not that scares us or reassures us.
Advent with grown (and practically grown) children is Advent with a different flavor.
Advent, a season of watching and waiting -- the season of hope, as a priest in the confessional reminded me in the advent of Advent -- is about pondering what Mary thought and felt as she anticipated the birth of the Christ Child, pondering who Jesus Christ is, and why He came to us.
I've pondered my way through many Advents since I became a Catholic. With the Blessed Mother, I have wondered. I've thought about why God chose me to mother these particular children, and I've asked Him at times whether I am up to the tasks He's assigned me. I've thought about the ways Christ has come to me in the past, the ways He has promised to come to me in the future, the way He always comes.
I'm so grateful for Advent, for the genius of a liturgical cycle that forces me to slow down, think, pray.
Watching my daughters grow into young women who love this time of year, who love God and have claimed their faith as their own, and look forward to creating beautiful Advent celebrations with their own children someday, has confirmed something for me:
I don't miss "our old Advents" because they are still with us. Every Advent we've observed and celebrated is a part of us. All those years of Jesse Trees, Jesus stockings, and yarn in a manger -- the slapdash, stressful years, and the carefully crafted, calmly carried out ones -- shaped us. The Advents of our past gave birth to the Advent we are having right now, this year, this moment.
This season of hope.
God finds new ways every year to help me see that He is nothing but Hope. And that's why I can't miss the Advents of our past. Because Christ -- O come, Emmanuel! -- is always making things new.