Even those of us working hard to observe the Holy Season of Advent, find ourselves fast-forwarding a bit and starting to hum along to "Joy to the World" while we stand in line at Starbuck’s waiting for our … Venti Christmas Blend.
After all, it's not as though we don't KNOW what happens next. The baby in the manager ... the shepherds and wise men gathered in wonder ... the star, the angel, and the great news, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All." It's what we're preparing for. It's what we're waiting for.
A friend of mine once described how "waiting" during Advent is different than some of the other kinds of "waiting" we do -- waiting for a bus, for example. Waiting for a bus is both boring and anxiety producing. Will it be on time? Will I make my connection? Am I waiting at the right bus stop ... what if I looked at the schedule wrong? Where IS that bus, anyway? That's waiting in anxiety.
Waiting in expectancy is more like being seated in the concert hall, waiting for the curtain to rise. We know something wonderful is about to happen: and everyone else is waiting with the same expectation. We may know what to expect -- we've bought the tickets, looked over the program, checked out the performers -- but the experience is yet to happen: and so we wait -- expectantly; we wait in the tension of both knowing and NOT knowing -- open to the experience about to unfold: expectant rather than anxious.
I believe that is the kind of "Advent Attitude" God calls us to aim for: to live in both trust and tension as we prepare, once again, for the coming of the One whose birth turned the world upside down as certainly as the preparations for his birthday turn our schedules upside down every year at this time. Now don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas as much as anyone – and I have a garage full of red and green plastic storage boxes full of “signs of the season” to prove it! (Ask Harvey and Luna!) But a few years ago I found the following “voice in the wilderness” that helped me put my preparations in perspective – a voice I turn to every December about this time to remind me of what I already know and too easily forget to remember:
· If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.
· If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook. ·
. If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.
· If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
· Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
· Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the partner.
· Love is kind, though harried and tired.
· Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
· Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way.
· Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
· Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
· Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust.
· But giving the gift of LOVE will endure.
What we are called to prepare for is the love that will set us free if we’ll embrace it: not just the holiday that will make us nuts if we let it. And when it threatens to – make me nuts – I listen for those voices in the wilderness that call my heart back where it longs to be: waiting expectantly rather than preparing anxiously.