reblogged from and listen to Season of Senses: Taste.
It was about ten years ago that Christie and I sat together in the pew for our first Christmas Eve service as husband and wife. We raised our candles high as we sang “Silent Night,” and I remember the feeling of anticipation as the service was ending, the joy of all that a Christmas Eve service offers. We walked through the cold air to the car, hand in hand. I started the car to get the heater running. I looked at Christie and said, “I love Xmas Eve service, don’t you?” “I do,” she said, with a smile to match mine. “I’m just so excited, you know. You go to church and sing your heart out giving thanks for the gift that God has given, and then you go home and open presents,” to which my blushing bride replied—“We don’t open presents on Christmas Eve. We open them on Christmas Day.” WHAT?!
I love waking up on the 25th, but I hate having to wait, I hate having to close my eyes on the 24th. There’s a tension during the Advent season. We know that Jesus will be born, yet we wait in hope, yearning, as Israel did, for a savior. In a way, it’s like knowing what’s under the tree, but it’s not yet time to reveal what’s under the wrapping paper. Advent is a time of preparation—a tension-filled discipline of waiting. Christmas is so close we can “taste” it.
madonna-in-prayerI wonder if the same was true with Mary, Jesus’ mother. She must have been conflicted each and every day. An angel approaches her and says that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and her son will be called Jesus, son of the Most High, yet how will she explain this to her friends and family? Will this child, who is to bring about God’s glory here on earth, bring Mary shame for those who see that she is with child before her wedding date? Glory or shame—which will it be? Or how about the excitement of being a parent, of being able to hold your baby in your arms, to sing him to sleep, to hear him squeak out his first giggle? Or maybe Mary was filled with terror of being a parent. This child is to bring about light in the midst of darkness. He is to regain the throne of David. He is God’s only son. There’s just a little bit of pressure here. Never mind the fact that she gave birth with no midwives, no mothers or mother-in-law or doctors or friends. It was Mary and Joseph and the midnight air. Excitement or terror—which will it be?
Mary IconWhen the child was born, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Simeon, a devout man of God, came into the Temple, held Jesus in his arms and said, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Now, I know that my daughters are God’s gift to the world, and I know you feel this way about your children or grandchildren, but Simeon’s not a relative, he’s not just being nice, he is actually saying that this child is God’s gift to the world! There’s no way you don’t feel good about yourself if someone says that about your child. You are filled with joy and pride and amazement, but then Simeon says that this child will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and that a sword would pierce her own soul. Amazing joy or utter sorrow—which will it be?
It is the agony of waiting, the bitter sweetness of anticipation, and no one understood the agony of waiting as Mary understood it. Will this child bring glory or shame, excitement or terror, amazing joy or utter sorrow? The agony of waiting.
Advent LightDuring the Advent season the Church talks about waiting, waiting upon the Lord. Sometimes this is a hopeful anticipation like seeing that small box under the tree knowing that your hints at the jewelry store have paid off, but often waiting is an agonizing experience because when we wait, when we slow down our souls suddenly become vulnerable.
Portrait of a girl playing the tubaI don’t know about your household, but growing up our household was a zoo. When I would come home from school mom would be doing laundry while stirring dinner, my sister would be practicing the piano while practicing ballet. My other sister would be watching TV and listening to the radio while doing homework. I would go and play video games while practicing voice lessons while daydreaming. Dad was the calm one, and he was at work. I don’t know about your household, but ours was a circus. I wonder if we fill up our schedules each and every day, not because there are things we have to do, but maybe we are filling our schedules simply for the sake of being busy because when we’re not busy, brothers and sisters have to play with one another, husbands and wives have to talk with each other, families have to sit around a table and talk about their day. See, when we have to wait, when we have to slow down we become vulnerable because there are no longer any distractions.
cropped-romans-8.jpgWhen we slow down, when we become vulnerable by waiting, we are making room in our souls for desire. This is what happens when a child sits in front of the presents under the tree, staring, dreaming of what lies under the red and green and gold paper. It may seem like the child is wasting time, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an important lesson to be learned. By sitting there, wasting time, slowing down the child is making room for desire, allowing the excitement and wonder and imagination to settle into their being. The beautiful thing about Advent is that we are given permission to do the same thing, to slow down, to waste time, to allow room in our souls for desire, to sit and waste time with an old friend, to again feel the desire of friendship, to sit and waste time with your spouse, to again feel the desire within marriage, to sit and waste time with your siblings, to feel the desire of family, to sit in the sanctuary, staring at the advent wreath, getting lost in the Chrismon tree, kneeling at the table, in order to be filled with the desire to see the radiant beams of the Christ-child’s holy face.
The agony of waiting. It’s the feeling you get on Christmas eve, waiting to give or to receive the perfect gift. You can’t sleep, you can’t close your eyes, your heart begins to race, your hands begin to figit, you can think of nothing else. This is why we celebrate Advent every year, so that we can mold and shape the desire we have for presents under the tree into a desire for Christ who was placed upon the tree. We waste time so that we may immerse ourselves in the bitter sweetness of the vulnerable “taste” of anticipation. Amen.