Photo Credit: Amy Bunce
For the first holiday outing in our new city, we headed out for the tree lighting in the town square. (It felt very Stars Hallow, for the Gilmore Girls fans, with lots of twinkly lights and a mayor’s words and Santa arriving by fire truck with all the usual characters.) After a line for sleigh rides, a queue for hot chocolate, and another turn to take to see Santa, my little girl exclaimed loudly that, “Mostly tonight, we were waiting in line!”
She hardly remembers a world where we went out to do things with other people. Her fairly short fuse at the best of times has not had much practice waiting. I am grieved at the ways the world has changed her and the rest of us. And I am captivated with wonder at her wisdom.
We did spend the whole evening waiting. And while we waited, things happened. We visited with our new friends. The kids pushed around remnants of the first snowfall with their mittens and boots. A massive bonfire attracted different groupings of people doing different things. People tried to cut the line and were redirected. We reminded the kids – and ourselves – that the waiting could easily be as fun as miserable.
Too often, I avoid things I perceive as too much hassle. Lines and crowds. The Ex and themed parties. Taking kids along on errands. The pandemic has magnified this habit in me. I mean, my house has my knitting and snacks and slippers…
But mostly, we will spend our lives waiting. For a special day. To see a favourite person. For a goal or dream to be realized. To be healed. For a baby to be born.
We eventually rode in the sleigh behind the horses. Even the pre-adolescent boys writhing on the edge of young manhood joined in the toddler singing Jingle Bells on my lap. The hot chocolate was a welcome warm on our hands and in our bellies. (Even if the sugar and excitement was a bit overwhelming.) The tantrum erupting in fear that Santa would run out of treat bags gave way to dance moves contrived just for waiting.
We were becoming (rather than merely on hold) in the lines. The minutes of waiting made something of us, every bit as much or more than the experiences that held us in the line. The wisdom is obvious if we just compare the minutes spent and do the math.
Isn’t this what Advent is meant to teach us? That the waiting is as formative as the thing itself? That there is a God as present in the process and the living as in the coming? This is the gift realized at Christmas: that the One we long for is ever present, God-with-us, Emmanuel.
It is giving me hope as the kids light purple candles every night to think that the pandemic might have been an especially long Advent season. There has been so much nesting and making and remaking our home. We are making room for the new selves being birthed in the many struggling labours of this strange season. The withdrawal and retreat to the most basic routines and rhythms for survival feels reminiscent of the days and months following a baby’s arrival. There is joy to be sure, and also sleeplessness, unsettling, and getting to know everyone all over again.
Right here, in the world and my life as it is right now, there is something and some One at work. I used to think that the meaning of life could be discovered and unwrapped like a gift, arriving in my hands and heart some wonderful day in the future. I don’t think that any more.
The meaning of this miraculous life on earth, I think, is learning to love what is right now like God does. I am living into the possibility that whatever is working itself out in this imperfect present is an opportunity for the simplest and most incredible love.
We are waiting – for Christmas, and for the new way of living with a character called Covid. And while we wait, we are becoming. May we cultivate the habits and rituals in the waiting that make us more generous and joyful, more patient and compassionate, more present and grateful. May the waiting draw us to the people waiting for us.