Some Christians get grumpy at this time of year. The beautiful season of Advent, they say, is being swallowed up by an interloper: the Christmas Shopping Season. I have been one of those grumpy Christians. I love the magical beauty of Advent as a season of quiet, peaceful waiting. Stars twinkling, silence and we sit in contemplation.
Real waiting is never like that. We are impatient waiting for the plumber, eager on our birthdays, but apprehensive with the dentist. Children ask, “Are we there yet?” every 5 minutes. We check to see if our package in transit is “out for delivery” yet and then peek out the window until it arrives. We rarely experience waiting as peaceful or meditative.
Waiting is a busy occupation, and always has been. Why would Mary and Joseph be different from other parents? Joseph, a carpenter, sanded and shaped a cradle. Mary made soft, warm garments and blankets for the child to come. Friends brought gifts to help them create a home for this most surprising of children.
Unexpected demands frequently interrupt our plans while we wait. Imagine Joseph and Mary’s consternation when the census was proclaimed. Conversation went late into the night. Was it riskier to travel so late in pregnancy or to disobey and face possible punishment? How could Mary endure the long trip? Where would they stay. Their time of waiting filled with new tasks and preparations.
At its best, the Christmas Shopping Season isn’t so different. We bake cookies to share with friends and family. Our hearts turn to distant family and old friends as we write our cards. We get a little giddy at gatherings of colleagues and friends, anticipating the joyous holiday. Even the tedium of shopping anticipates for the moment when the box is opened and a smile crosses someone’s face.
Benedictine spirituality tells its followers to see Christ’s face in all sorts of people. Our family and friends, but also the colleague whose politics leave us cold. Or the nosy neighbor, the waitress who forgets our order, and the driver who cuts us off. The bell-ringers, carol singers, and light stringers proclaim the same message. This child, that old man, this busy mom, those teens carrying in the tree: can we imagine that they are Christ?
Our waiting in Advent is unique. We are waiting for a Savior, someone to open a doorway out of our bondage to “the world’s ways.” We do not know what to look for. We recognize the spark of the divine in others as we give cards, gifts, even smiles. Grumpiness vanishes as we seek the face of God in all we meet. Our hearts open wide. We make room for the Divine to enter our lives in new ways. Happy Advent.
This article first appeared on December 8, 2017 in The Cable, the student newspaper of The College of St. Scholastica, where Sister Edith writes a weekly column titled Visum Monachae… (As Seen By a Sister).