What are you waiting for?
Advent is a time of waiting. For some it is anticipation — little children waiting for Santa Claus, older ones waiting for the gift they wanted and were told, “Wait until Christmas.” Many adults are waiting for moving Christmas cantatas or Christmas Eve services, for baking cookies, family gatherings and traditional feasts. For Christmas.
On the other hand, for some this waiting is almost a dread – the press of decorating, shopping, wrapping, mailing, crowded roads and stores, or mindless chatter with people you barely know at parties.
Perhaps it is the fresh pain of Christmas without a lost loved one, or the long agony of being with those who should be loved ones, who hurt us instead.
When I was little, on Christmas Eve my father and brothers would cut down a tree out in the woods and drag it to the house. Already started on his liquor, my father would put the tree up for Santa to decorate. On Christmas morning we’d awaken to a beautifully decorated tree and presents below.
Somewhere between five and six, I became “Santa” when my father passed out before doing any Santa duties. My mother, exhausted with my baby brother, asked me to step in. Every year after that, I decorated the tree when the others went to bed. It wasn’t long before I did all the house decorations and wrapped the gifts as well.
Alone with the glow of tree lights, every Christmas I waited for some kind of magic to happen, wished for Christmas to be wonderful and transforming. When we lived up north, the anticipation of a white Christmas brought an extra measure of hope.
One Christmas stands out in my memories, right after I turned eleven, the year after my youngest brother drowned. For the first time, my mother insisted the family attend the midnight service. Since my baby sister was in bed, I stayed home with her. Once the house was quiet, I put on our one Christmas record and began to decorate the tree, stopping often to watch the snow fall. I was sure the magic I had longed for would come that year.
Christmas morning came with Dad hung over, Mom making sticky buns and putting the turkey in the oven, and my brothers and I opening gifts. The day went on as usual, nothing changed, nothing new.
By the time I was in junior high I no longer waited for a Christmas miracle.
When I became a mother, I tried very hard to make Christmas perfect for my children. Still, I found, as my mother had, too much was out of my control. That didn’t keep me from trying harder, starting sooner, wearing myself out more each year. Somebody deserved Christmas magic!
I was a Christian. I knew the baby whose birth we celebrated. I even made birthday cakes on Christmas day and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, trying to make it more meaningful.
For so many years, I tried so hard.
The Christmas miracle came, but not when I was staring at a manger scene or singing carols, or decorating a tree. It came slowly, imperceptibly over the years, as I received more and more of Jesus into the corners of my soul where I’d hidden out.
The baby in the manger is God, coming in human form to reclaim his own. To bring back the lost. To heal the broken heart. The make us his children.
As I allowed Him in to heal my heart, and as I began to really believe that I belong to Him, the star of Christmas started to glow for me.
Just as it was over 2000 years ago for Mary and Joseph on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, mine has been a long journey.
In the weeks to come, I’ll share some of the more poignant moments along the way.
So, what are you waiting for? Living for? Wishing for? Dreading? Hoping for?