“Wha-at a-are yo-ou WAITING for? Christmas?” It’s a question I used to harangue batters with as a baseball catcher in college–especially when a batter was excessively finicky at which pitch he wanted to swing. The question is probably asked a million times—thrown at the direction of the driver ahead of us who is more intent on the cell phone than on the green traffic light—in wonderment of how much greener the light needs to be before said motorist finally looks up from the screen and accelerates.
It is fair enough to ask the same question of a Christian as he or she waits for Christmas. We’ve recently entered into the season of Advent, which, with its many traditions, is primarily a time of waiting and preparation for the miracle of the nativity of Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord. And it’s also a time when we wait for a lot of other things—the Christmas Bonus, a few days extra away from work, the arrival of loved ones for family celebration (even though they may have been curtailed or minimized by the pandemic this year), a stealthy trip to get the last particular gift when nobody suspects we are out and about. This year we may await news about the health of someone or some member of our family who has contracted the virus. We wait for a lot of things, events, or emotions during this time of year.
I often remember that the waiting word, “advent,” comes from the same root and blends together with the word “adventure,” as both describe the character of waiting. Here’s how the two words might look if you were to consult your dictionary (I looked on-line to Mirriam-Webster.com):
Advent: n., latin, adventus = arrival, appearance – 1. The period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting
Adventure: n., latin, advenire = to arrive at, reach, arise, develop – 1) An undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
Waiting takes time. Waiting is not easy. Waiting takes mindfulness for even the most subtle signs of hope. This time of year in our hemisphere we wait for more hours of sunlight after the winter solstice (on Dec 21) when the daylight returns in seconds and minutes each day. They come so slowly that we might not even notice the longer days until we’ve arrived closer to spring.
Maybe adventure and advent are good words for people of the Advent tradition. Undertaking and arriving are part of all our life’s journeys. The journey is sometimes dangerous and full of unknown risks. Sounds like life to me, for sure! The news headlines and analysis of unrest in the world, fears of political and economic collapse, the ever present public announcements on the media—even the prospect of going out into public—remind me of the risks and dangers that are part of the journey.
Several people have told me that the holiday season is the saddest time of the year for them because it highlights their grief over a loved one(s) lost or dead. We have great difficulty singing holiday lyrics about peace on earth when I know full well that our planet is anything but peaceful. We can’t understand how such grief and such destructive violence are part of our individual and collective journey. We wish that journey was free from danger, risk and heartache. That is merely a wish.
Perhaps most comforting for me is that I don’t have to undertake life’s journey alone. Loving family, friends, and acquaintances are companions along the way. As a person of faith, I know that God waits with me. This time of year, I savor the reminders that hope lingers somewhere in the mix of danger, risk and “mini-arrivals.” Hearing of the outpouring of charitable works, the growing awareness that we need to take actions that care for others and ourselves (masking, social distancing, carefulness in relating physically) are actual signs of hope along the way, too. Often these reminders are as subtle as those few extra seconds of daylight after winter’s darkest and shortest day. I realize that they are truly present in the form of the loving support of a Zoom visit from friends and family during difficult times. They are apparent in a YouTube message sent to me by a friend just today about gratitude ( see below). Ultimately, it is the arrival of the celebration of Christmas in all its mystery and wonderment that celebrates the beginning of a life that was given for all the world.
I might do better to be a person of hope. A hopeful person is one who expectantly looks for those understated yet truly present reminders that we’re not alone on this journey we call life. So, when you approach a green traffic light and are blocked by someone who hasn’t started to move, I hope you’ll be gentle with them. It just might be somebody waiting for Christmas. It just might be someone keeping an eye peeled for a shred of light and hope on their journey. I just might be me.
Happy Advent! Happy Christmas!