So, I was thinking that I hate waiting – for anything. I hate waiting in line, waiting for my food to come, waiting for the car ahead of me to turn. I hate waiting for water to boil and toast to brown. You might think that makes me particularly impatient, but I’m not sure I’m any worse than anybody else. (OK, my family and those who work with me might argue, but just ask them to wait for something and we’ll see who is pot and who is kettle). My resistance to waiting is perhaps partly due to my personality, but I think there are certain cultural pressures as well. It has been drilled into my head that being late for meetings, for dinner, for anything at all is not just unprofessional, but simply bad manners. We live in a fast food, prepackaged, just-add-water world. Messaging is instant, social connections are virtual and constant, phones are in our pocket all the time. We don’t have to wait so we don’t like to wait – for anything.
Some of the most painful waiting I can remember was part of my childhood experience of Christmas. For me, days actually got longer each passing day in December. The days until school let out for the break and the actual dawn of Christmas Day moved by at a glacial pace. Time passed more slowly, the earth seemed to slow its rotation just to torment us all. Christmas Eve was an endless, sleepless affair where I actually believed morning would not come just to taunt me. Each week we went to church and there was that wreath – an assembly of five candles that would mark this slow passage of time. As I boy, I’m not sure I liked that wreath. It kept yelling at me to “Wait!” Each week one more candle would be lit signaling how far away from Christmas we were. What it took me time to notice was that it also marked how much closer we were to the celebration. As I grew up, I came to love that slow march that moved ahead and looked back; that honored both the distance traveled and the road still ahead. I came to enjoy the journey instead of thinking only of the destination.
Maybe that is why not just as a pastor, but as a person who struggles to make my days count and to find peace int he journey of life, I am such a curmudgeon about the cultural rush to Christmas. The anxiety, anxiousness and anticipation of Christmas takes over life before Thanksgiving. It is measured in dollars spent, gifts received, and in capturing some special memory that is often better than the reality it tries to recreate. In all the rush and hustle, we miss the journey, the path, the way we have come and the destination ahead. Waiting is an essential discipline for tending our souls.
The inability to wait and to only live by the goals we set, the schedules we keep, the deadlines that rule us robs us of the peace and contentment that come from experiencing and embracing each moment of the journey. That is why waiting is essential.
Advent is a counter-cultural season. Advent refuses to rush to the carols, it rejects becoming but a prelude to a holiday. Advent will not allow us to speed through the journey just to get to Christmas. Advent forces us to wait, to pause, to look and listen. Advent calls us to look ahead at the road we travel and to look back at where we have been so that we don;t miss any part of the journey. That is a lesson for life, and a lesson for impatient people like me.
Chill out world, Christmas will come. Wait for it. For now, enjoy the journey. Light a candle in the darkness and wait for the light.
Pax Christi, Pastor Tim