It was the first morning of Advent—the season that embodies longing, the pause between waiting for deliverance and the arrival of Emmanuel. The only sound I could hear was the ticking of the clock as I scribbled in my journal, lit only by the soft white glow of the Christmas tree’s lights. It was one of those moments you wait for—hushed and holy.
But I hung my head in regret in the still of that tender moment. My first act of Advent was repentance as I read the words that described exactly what I did the day before:
Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted taking care of all your day-to-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. –Romans 13:11, The Message
I wanted everything to be perfect that day. Thanksgiving was behind us and Christmas was close enough to touch, to start the daily countdown written in chalk next to the stockings. We have the tradition of decorating while listening to Christmas music and sipping cocoa before we watch the first Christmas movie of the season; always Elf.
I had worked myself into a frenzy trying to create that perfect moment. The furniture had to be moved to make room for the tree. That meant cleaning the baseboards where the couch had been. It also meant packing away the fall decorations to make way for the collection of mangers that adorn every surface of the dining room. But those surfaces were all covered in dust. One cleaning project turned into another until every space was spotless and by then the time to decorate the tree before we went to evening church was limited.
There are no pictures of the kids laughing while they hung the ornaments. I didn’t have time for that. We had cocoa with dinner, but drank it quickly and rushed off to the next thing. In all the preparations for that special moment, I missed it altogether. There were no prayers said beside the tree. The joy of it was lost to me.
I am sure the kids saw nothing but magic; the lights, the cocoa, the music were all there. But I knew better. I was waiting for this magical moment. I was trying to whip up some sacred experience like a batch of Christmas cookies. My waiting didn’t look much like waiting. It looked more like working to create something I should have just let come to me. I tried to manufacture a moment when I really needed to wait for the moment to come—imperfect, messy and holy. Kind of like a baby in a borrowed bed, surrounded by dirty hay, the smell of manure in the air.
I convince myself that I am preparing my heart for Christmas when I am really just filling my time with more work. I’m always waiting for this next revelation, the next perfect moment for Jesus to come in and let me know He is present. If we’re always waiting, then when are we living?
Tish Harrison Warren in the Liturgy of the Ordinary says, “Christians are people who wait. We live in liminal time, in the already and not yet. Christ has come, and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime. We wait. But in my daily life I’ve developed habits of impatience—of speeding ahead, of trying to squeeze more into my cluttered day. How can I live as one who watches and waits for the coming kingdom when I can barely wait for water to boil?”
Even in my waiting for God, I get impatient and try to manufacture a moment. I convince myself I need this quiet moment to find the holy. I relegate the Omnipresent God to a few moments when I can step away from “regular” life. Living for the pauses can keep us from being present in the movement of life.
This morning, by the light of the tree, I asked Jesus to invade my every day, to show me how to live expectantly each moment.
Tonight we’ll watch Elf and sip cocoa. In that moment I can pause to let God draw near. Tomorrow we’ll rush between school, dance class, grocery shopping and dishes. In those moments, too, I can pause to let God draw near.
“God is redeeming all things, and our lives—even our days—are part of that redemption. We live in the truth that, however slowly or quickly we may be traveling, we are going somewhere. Or, more accurately, somewhere (and Someone) is drawing near to us” (Warren, 114).
In the pausing and the moving, in the waiting and the working—Lord, be near.
In the holy and the messy, in the peace and chaos—Lord, be near.
In my every day—Lord, be near.