It feels as if we’ve been doing a lot of waiting the last 8 months or so – waiting for the scientific news and updates about Covid-19, waiting for Covid test results, waiting to see family and friends again, waiting for election ads to be gone and results to be in . . . But yesterday began what I believe is the true season of waiting. Advent.
I know there are many, like me, who see these weeks before Christmas and the weeks after Christmas as two distinct and different seasons. Advent is waiting and preparing. I’ll take weeks to slowly decorate the house and it’s in that festive unfolding and building of color and light, that I feel the building excitement and joy for Christmas Day and all its significance. Then Christmastime dawns on December 25th, or in our case, midnight mass with all the bells and trumpets and full explosion of joyful noise. I really am like a little kid on Christmas morning.
So while there are folks chucking their tree to the curb the morning of the 26th, I’m finally settling down to simply enjoy and not ‘do’ for the next couple of weeks. Christmas becomes a true time of peace and thanksgiving. And letting me celebrate for two extra weeks also allows me not to feel guilty if Christmas cards don’t get signed, addressed and sent until after the 26th.
This is a book I pull out every couple of years as a meditation during these weeks.
It’s the only book Jean Jones Andersen wrote and as you can see my copy is old and well-worn. I have no idea where I got it. The writing is poetic and the illustrations beautiful line drawing portraits of each of the people we encounter. We encounter eight: Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the Innkeeper, a Shepherd, an Angel, Herod, and a Sage. With each person we hear their story, and reflect on how their story is ours, too. I love and appreciate how honest the writer was in making everyone human. From the opening of the Innkeeper: Good grief, what more can they expect of me, these people? Tramps, half of them – and those overgrown, overweaning Roman barbarians: insufferable pigs! And all of them have to have the best room, the biggest meal, the fastest service – and everything they want, they have to have ten minutes ago!
My gosh! As a mom and an employee how often have I voiced a similar sense of being taken for granted and put upon? The reflection questions target those times when I’ve been overwhelmed, misunderstood, or blamed for things out of my control. Of course the Innkeeper’s demeanor changes as he sees the pregnant Mary ride up on the donkey. And so too, the reflection questions include those times when I’ve been chosen as an ‘innkeeper’ giving hospitality, being present, willingly making room in my heart and home. As brief as the book is, most years I don’t finish because the preparations of the season swallow up the quiet waiting. Maybe this year I’ll encounter all the characters.
Also this year our family is experiencing our own special advent as we await the birth of two babies – our son and daughter-in-law’s little guy and our niece and nephew’s little girl. They’re scheduled to arrive just weeks apart in the New Year, so as we prepare for the birth of Christ, there’s a stronger sense of hope and this underlying sense of connection to the Holy Family, because we are in the midst of this special kind of waiting. These young women obviously have it easier in many ways than Mary did, but I know the emotions are much the same – joy, anxiety, excitement, fatigue, wonder at the mystery, impatience to just finally hold these little bundles.
We all anticipate Advent and Christmas being different this year and maybe those differences won’t be a bad thing. This forced stepping back may give us permission to slow down, concentrate on what’s most important in our family and how we celebrate. Maybe this will create space for the quiet reflection many of us crave during this crazy, busy time but never seem to find the time for.
My hope for you during Advent is that you can step away from the physical preparations and create those pockets of time, even for just 5 minutes, to inhale and exhale, and to spiritually wait and prepare for Christmas.