We are all waiting for something.
Back in the day there was a commercial jingle for a popular ketchup brand that boasts these words; “anticipation, anticipation….is making me wait…it’s keeping me waiting.” The commercial makes waiting look appealing – and deliciously rewarding! It sold a lot of ketchup, so people bought the theory anyway. But most of us don’t find waiting appealing at all. Today we live in an age of faster is better. Our patience is currently measured in direct proportion to the speed of the internet, rather than the speed of our ketchup. Yep, things have changed.
Speaking of waiting, we are now on the home stretch of Advent – the ultimate season of waiting for the arrival of Christmas day. In past years, I have been so caught up in the hustle and bustle of getting ready for “the big day” that advent has been totally lost on me. Shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list takes time, and then there is wrapping, decorating, baking, watching Hallmark channel Christmas movies with my husband (he insists this is an ingredient to a happy marriage) – these things consume every ounce of holiday energy I have. No time to wait for anything – gotta hustle to get through my mile-long to-do list. Heavy sigh. This year, I decided to change things up while ramping up for Christmas.
Circumstances in my life inspired me to push the pause button on my holiday merry-go-round. I have chosen to slow down this season and in so doing, advent has taken on a different meaning for me. Pushing the pause button can be simultaneously pleasantly refreshing and painfully revealing. When we slow down, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, self-awareness has the opportunity to reveal itself. I am often guilty of moving at such speed in accomplishing my to-do list, not only at Christmas time, but all the time, that I have no time left for reflection and revelation. The hustle of busyness tends to drown out the voice of self-awareness.
While I have been intentional about dialing it down and enjoying the feeling of refreshment and renewal that comes with a slower pace, I have unintentionally been learning a lot about myself in the process. Here comes the painful part – I am learning that I am not good at waiting. Waiting well requires patience and the ability to be still. I am neither naturally patient or idle. I am discovering that waiting is something I endure, rather than embrace. (Similar to how I endure slow internet speed). To embrace something means to hold it closely, or to accept it. So how do you learn to wait well? Advent provides the perfect opportunity to practice embracing the art of waiting because advent is a season of waiting.
Hope whispers, embrace the wait.
Advent, which begins the first Sunday in December and culminates with the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas day, is pillared on four spiritual principles – Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. As I carve out time each day to sit in quiet contemplation, prayer and meditation about what each of these four principles mean to me, I am discovering a deep, anchoring power in them. Waiting can provide the opportunity to rest, recharge, reevaluate and refuel when I need it most. When I am always rushing, I have no time to embrace, hope, peace, joy or love.
I have been thinking a lot about Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men – all of the central characters in the Christmas story. We tend to focus on angels singing and stars shining down on the manger around a happy nativity scene at Christmas, with everyone gazing intently and peacefully at this newborn. But with all of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, were any of them able to embrace hope, peace, joy or love initially?
I wonder how Mary must have felt waiting for the birth of her baby. Any woman who has given birth can relate somewhat. Add in the fact that Mary was giving birth to the son of God – that’s stress, exhaustion and anxiety around childbirth magnified! And they traveled to Bethlehem on a donkey right before Mary gave birth – I imagine that was an uncomfortable, bumpy and very slow ride. She probably wasn’t feeling very hopeful at that point. She moved forward in faith, despite her feelings.
The waiting must have taken a toll on Joseph, physically and emotionally. His fiancé, a virgin, was giving birth. He must have had doubts, felt confused and maybe even angry. Can you imagine how you would feel if your fiancé, who swears she is a virgin, tells you she is pregnant and giving birth to God’s son? I’m guessing he wasn’t feeling much joy at the time. Still, he stuck it out and kept his commitment to Mary.
Then there are the shepherds, who were quietly minding their business in the fields when an angel appeared to announce Jesus birth, scaring them half to death. The Bible says they were, “terrified”. Who wouldn’t be? Not exactly the picture of peace there. They pushed past their fear and made the journey to Bethlehem anyway.
Ever think about the journey the three wise men took following the star all the way to Bethlehem? They traveled a lot of miles, either by foot or camelback with nothing but the light of a star to guide them. They had to have been exhausted by the time they arrived. They had heard about this “king of kings” coming – maybe even studied theories about this newborn king. Did love or intellect motivate them to make the trek? They were intellectual types who probably didn’t put much stock in feelings. They were more into theories. Whatever drove them, they made it to the manger to meet Jesus. Regardless of what got them there, love kept them there.
The wait was worth it for all of them. Mary. Joseph. The shepherds. The wise men. The birth of Jesus completed Mary’s hope. And in a world filled with uncertainty, He is still our hope today. Joy, peace and love also showed up that first Christmas for Joseph, who kept his commitment despite the potential social fallout and embarrassment; for the shepherds, who called on their courage even though they were terrified; and for the wise men, who followed a star and a theory to find the love of their new king.
We are all waiting for something. The question to ponder isn’t so much what you are waiting for, but how are you waiting for it? Are you waiting in a state of anxiety or anticipation? With doubt or determination? In panic or peace? With hope or hopelessness? When we embrace the opportunities that waiting brings – to slow down, rest, recharge and perhaps reevaluate our situation – we are able to gain strength and wisdom for the journey ahead.
Whatever you find yourself waiting for this Christmas season, I invite you to embrace the wait. Rest your body. Renew your mind. Recharge your spirit. Reevaluate the situation if you need to so that you can make room to embrace what matters most. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. They showed up that first Christmas, and they will show up for you. If you aren’t experiencing them today, wait for them – they are on their way.