When I was a kid, getting to light the advent candle at church was a big deal. Like, Ron Burgundy big. Each Sunday leading up to Christmas, we would check the bulletin to see which family had been selected to do the honor and we would watch the performance as if it were a mini Nativity play. The years when my family was so lucky as to be asked to join in, we were invited to do the lighting a few weeks in advance. The week before the main event, we took home a binder that contained each family member’s part to speak during the service. This binder was carefully practiced and studied so that we had all memorized our lines and our cues to put on a flawless performance. Outfits were carefully selected so that right at the moment the flame took to the wick, we could have a perfect Norman Rockwell-worthy Christmas moment. My memories of the advent candle are pretty epic.
So, you can imagine my excitement when, last week sitting in our pew, one of our friends asked if our family would be willing to do the advent lighting the following week. My face suddenly all aglow with Christmas cheer, I sat up a little straighter and ecstatically agreed. We had arrived. We had established ourselves enough in our little church body and produced cute enough offspring to be considered worthy of *collective gasp* the advent candle. I had trouble paying attention to the rest of the sermon as I contemplated which of our daughters would ask, “Dad, why are we lighting the candle today?” and which would help me read the Bible verse. Maybe we should hold family auditions….
I should have known that things were going to be different when I asked about the binder. I was told just to show up a little early to the service next Sunday and that our lines would be ready for us near the candle lighting station. Okay, no problem. I’m an advent pro. I remember my lines from my elementary school days; I can wing this. Instead of memorizing lines, I spent the week trying to decide what we all should wear. We had to be coordinated, Christmasy, but not look like we were trying too hard. We couldn’t look like I was taking this as seriously as I was; there was no binder after all.
So, the big day arrived. I dressed us all in our carefully chosen ensembles, had a friend take a family photo and headed off to church making sure not to be late. I felt a certain celebrity vibe as I stepped out of the car and walked up to the sanctuary. Yes, we are here, the advent family. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that no one else seemed to care. That’s okay, they’ll know when they get the bulletin. Huh, no name in the bulletin? I can deal with that.
Chris headed up to the altar to find the promised advent guide so that at least he and I would be ready to speak and the girls could just sit and look cute. No paper. Oh dear. He went off to find the advent coordinator. Chris came back to report that the coordinator seemed to think that a college girl was going to perform the advent this week. WHAT!?!?! No. This is OUR Sunday. I might have had a few un-Christian things go through my mind at that point. I’m not sure what happened but the situation was resolved when the coordinator quickly sat down next to me and said, “Are you doing the candle today?” I breathed a relieved, “yes” and awaited the instructions.
“Who of you is going up?” He asked referring to my perfectly coordinated though not-over-the-top family. Somewhat perplexed, I replied that I assumed that all four of us would go up. He said that would be fine and then asked the woman next to him if we would be doing the Luke passage. She replied in the negative and reported that we would be doing the Isaiah passage. “Alright,” I replied. “Which verses?”
“Um, I don’t know. We don’t have the paper.”
Are you serious right now? Not only did you not know that we were lighting the candle, you don’t even know what we are saying? Come on, people.
I frantically started flipping through Isaiah to find a Christmas passage. “Pierced for our transgressions?” No, that’s Easter. “For unto us a child is born…” That’s it! I informed our coordinator (I now use that term loosely) that I found the right passage. He barely had time to tell me when we would be on when the opening song started.
In the chaos of finding the Bible verse, I hadn’t been able to ask anyone to document this monumental event for our family. So, as we strode up to the podium, I meekly passed off my iPhone to a friendly church-goer and asked if she wouldn’t mind taking a couple of pictures for our family. She happily agreed and up to the front we went. This was it. This was our defining moment as an advent family. I read the verse from Isaiah, Chris lit the candle, and… that’s it. We were done. We sat down. One of the most epic moments of the Christmas season had come and gone. That was the day that I learned a little something about managing expectations.