Have you ever had one of those moments? When you got THE news you had been waiting for? THE opportunity you had worked long and hard toward? THE break of a lifetime?
I have recently, and it caught me totally by surprise. It’s the oddest thing. You believed in the promise, but now that you’re holding the confirmation, it doesn’t quite seem real. You look again, just for confirmation. Yep, it’s real.
What do you do? Well, you smile and your heart races and you have the sudden urge to tell your friends. If no one is around, you post it on Facebook. Lotsa friends there. People are happy for you. They congratulate you.
But after the moment of initial elation, things start to settle. You hold the thing just a little bit closer, feel its warmth, it’s life. It looks up at you as if to say, “I’m yours. Now what?”
This moment is especially vivid for me having just been mesmerized by the cover art on this month’s (the January-February 2014 edition) of the Upper Room Magazine. It literally stopped me in my tracks. A bearded man clutching a small, swaddled child to his breast. The two are awash in a map of the world. Beaming from the child’s blanket is a point of light.
The look on the man’s face, is it joy or is it pain? The artist himself calls it “ecstasy.” This is Simeon, the priest in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought their baby boy to “do what was customary under the law.”
What must that moment have looked like? What does it feel like to hold the Son of God in your arms? The second chapter of Luke tells us…
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” Now, he could be dismissed in peace.
Complete and utter joy. Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. But, the look on his face, is it joy or pain? Because these moments are just that, moments. You can only stand and revel in your Facebook congratulations so long, then you have to do something.
Simeon told the child’s parents what he knew of what was ahead for this child. That was both good news and bad. And that’s the way with moving ahead into whatever comes. It’s not all good. But you can’t stay in the glory. You’ve got to get to work. This gift is not for holding or hoarding, it’s for using and sharing.
So, you take a step. Perhaps a tiny step. Or maybe in your enthusiasm you take a giant leap, waving your new book contract above your head screaming, “Lookie here! I’m gonna be published!”
Some people dance and sing for you, saying, “Now you made it! Congratulations, I knew you could do it!” They figure that all that’s left is the coasting. Sit back and let the royalties roll on in. Not so fast.
Other people, those more in the know, look you straight in the eye and say, “Now that the miracle has been delivered, what will you do with it?”
Holding a miracle flings open every door in the house. The wind howls in the hallway. The curtains start flapping. Everything that’s not nailed down takes flight. God’s that big. You are that fortunate. The weight of that moment is huge. Good thing, because otherwise you would be swept up in the whirlwind, too.
Instead, you hold it close, feel it nestle against you, it’s heart beating strong and true. It looks up at you in total trust. The eyes look back at you, big and brown and soft and somehow intense. You look down, trying to reassure it, reassure him, even as all around you the ideas and the opportunities spin. Dizzying, if it weren’t for your focus. Hold on!
What do you do when you’ve been given the one thing you’ve always wanted – a crowning achievement, glory itself?
Embrace it. Nurture it. Go for it.
“Use what you have in your hands. It’s mine. It’s me. It’s ours.”
It is the music that makes it feel like Christmas to me. To the chagrin of my family, I turn on the Christmas stations and put in the Christmas CDs and hum along with the songs piped in at the mall. I am positively impossible at Christmastime.
But this year is not like previous Christmas seasons. Because I have a law student living at home studying for exams. She wants it quiet. So, out of respect, I have silenced the stereo. “Use your headphones, Mom,” she says. Because this is what all young people do, listen to their own music through their own ears, so as not to disturb anyone.
This is respectful, I guess, but it’s not Christmas. Because I like to sing along. And, different from all other songs in all other seasons, at Christmastime I know all the verses. Perhaps this is because I have sung them since childhood. Or because they are the same songs, year after year. I don’t bother much with the new ones; I like the old favorites. They’re embedded in my memory banks. One verse just flows out after the other.
And of course, there’s the aftershock…After I hear them and sing them, they keep playing in my head and I keep right on singing. Ah, yes, my family dearly loves this.
I broke all the rules last night and pulled out the old hymnal, playing the tunes…Joy To the World, What Child is This? Away in a Manger, Angels We Have Heard on High, on my heirloom baby grand piano. And lo and behold, my daughter the law student applauded and asked for an encore from the other room where she was still studying. I played Silent Night.
There is just something about Christmas music. The tunes, yes. The timing, yes. But I think that the very sneaky or very wise God planted a message in the music that speaks to us in a unique way. It settles deep and stays with us. So that even I can remember the verses. Not just the melody in the first verse, but the message all the way to the last.
I am reminded again of this as I sing and hum to Away in a Manger.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes;
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
The last verse is a special favorite. It calls back to mind many, many tender bedtimes when I sang this with my youngest daughter, then so small. Bless all the dear children, indeed. And fit us for heaven – shape us just right for the ever after you have planned.
Some of the “updated” versions sing “bring us to heaven.” Perhaps bringing and fitting are the same thing to some folks, but not to me. I prefer the old way. Making us fit for the Kingdom seems a lifetime in coming. “Bring us” seems so…passive, on our parts. It is the end of the song, but is the end of the story? the beginning? or somewhere in between?
In a manger 2000 years ago, a baby was born. He’ll be born again this Christmas. In me. In my daughters. In my household. In my world. What a merciful Savior we have. To help us remember to the very end of the song.
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.