We’re not very good at waiting these days. It’s not our fault. The world has sped up. No time for sitting idle. We need to be productive, purposeful, proactive. Open slots don’t appear on my calendar or in my day. I actually have to schedule them. And then, I have to convince myself it is not wasteful to dally while putting ornaments on the tree or arrange the garland on the banister just so.
When I was a child, I was a better waiter. I had more practice. Things didn’t come immediately. That gave me time to prepare for them, anticipate them and then to truly appreciate them when they came. I remember watching the wrapped gifts, one by one, appear under the Christmas tree as family members and friends placed them there. And on that last night, Christmas Eve, I could hardly contain myself, so excited was I for the morning. We made cookies and put them a plate. We poured a glass of milk and set it next to the cookies. We even put out some sugar cubes or treats for the reindeer.
Then we waited, dressed in PJs, teeth brushed, with our blankies or in our sleeping bags, trying to stay awake for the jolly man himself. Eyes trained on the chimney and listening for the sound of hoofs on the rooftop. But every year, try as we might, our eyelids became droopy and we yawned and trundled off to bed. Or perhaps we fell asleep and were carried to bed. The morning’s light woke us, our eyes shot open when the realization hit us: It’s Christmas!
The waiting was over.
I imagine children today still try to stay awake for Santa, but the waiting is different. They follow him on the internet. They watch tv or movies on their iPads to pass the time. Perhaps they play video games or strike up an online chat. Something to distract them from the monotony of waiting so it’s not so difficult. So much assists in passing the time until The Time comes that you hardly notice. So when it arrives, it’s an interruption in what you were already doing. Oh, look there, it’s Christmas. Much like 11:59 ticks over to 12:00 on New Years, we slip into Christmas.
Nothing teaches you to wait like waiting. Anticipation is an amazing thing. It gives you time to imagine and ponder, to wonder and marvel. It builds energy and excitement. It hopes in you. I love that in Spanish the verb “to hope” and “to wait” is the same word: esperar. Where the one is, the other is, too. You don’t have one without the other.
If waiting is a thing of the past, then so also is hoping. And hope is the middling thing between faith and love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) The greatest may be love, but to get there from faith requires hope. And hope waits.
Traveling the neighborhood recently I enjoyed seeing a sparkling white figurine of the Angel Gabriel, trumpet to lips, announcing the coming King. In front of him, three smaller figures: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in a manger. Baby and manger were all one piece. There would be no losing or misplacing that baby but also no waiting for him. When the decorations went up, the baby was already here.
This left me a bit melancholy. That in this season of Advent – of waiting – there isn’t any. As a child, that may have been the best gift ever given to me.