Morning always comes early on Christmas Eve. I don’t plan it, I just wake up. This quiet, this peace, this day…I don’t want to miss it. The lighted trees, three of them, are on timers set to go dark at 11 P.M. so I scurry around to flip the timer switches to “Manual.” The little cashmere tree lights the den and the white tree on the table in the living room shines through the picture window for all the passers-by. But, ahhhh…only I can see the tree on the porch, through the double glass doors. It’s the happy-accident tree, on the porch because I could not bring myself to move furniture to put it up in the den. I am looking at a Christmas card, one of those with only a touch of gold glitter, maybe sitting in a snowy meadow with bunnies and squirrels and deer, angels hovering, the kind of view that sort of warms you inside.
The porch tree has no animals and no snow. We won’t have a white Nashville Christmas and the foxes, squirrels, and raccoons are still nestled snug in their beds—the Shih-Tzu, too. I’m sure the angels are there but I don’t see or hear them. The similarity to the Christmas card scene is only in my imagination but I’m happy to be up early to have this calm to my selfish self, to watch the twinkle of the lights against the dark.
I was late with the Advent wreaths this year. I have tall tapers for the metal twig candelabra in the piano room but I couldn’t remember where I put them. There was no sign of the pink and purple votives for my wineglass wreath, either. I missed the glow of those lights against the dark outside my window for the first sixteen days of Advent.
I surprised myself by not running out to find new ones so that I could “start Advent on time.” I knew I’d find them, probably next Easter, in the “safe place” where I put them last Christmas. I found all the candles on the morning of the seventeenth day of Advent. I was in the pantry area of The Cellar looking for chili beans and I felt their presence. You’re getting warm…Yes, they’re very close. Yes, here they are, neatly packed and labeled and on a shelf with the labels facing outward. Nothing was in front of them. I just didn’t see them the twenty other times I gazed at the same shelves.
Advent is a season of waiting—waiting and watching. In the Christian Church, Advent is a time to practice patience in waiting for something that happened two thousand years ago, the advent of our God to walk among us as a child. Advent is also four weeks of making preparations for the resurrected Christ to return to earth, a future event. But while we time travel simultaneously backward and forward with Advent, and make peace with this paradox of stillness and busy-ness, we must also meet somewhere in the middle of the ages for patience in the present.
It seems easy to wait for Christmas. Who has doubt that it will arrive on December 25? The store clerks used to ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?” as they checked us out. And if we answered that we were not ready, we might get the answer “Well, it’ll come whether you’re ready or not.”
Waiting for Christ’s return—someday—only requires an imagination, a hope that there is more something waiting after the last breath, and a willingness to suspend disbelief: I know, some call that “faith.”
But now, the patience in the present, the waiting in the here and now—that’s more difficult for me. I’ve come to think it means living into all those conflicting feelings that fill our moments and our days, mine and yours. Faith and disbelief, struggle and acceptance, sadness and laughter, grief and joy, anxiety and contentment, burden and relief, clarity and puzzlement, “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”, they come upon us in syndromes, never one at a time, and very often all romping—or lazing—around in a mind-party.
I struggle to find the Advent candles—and accept that I can do the waiting and watching without them. A son leaves for college—and another comes home from battle. A woman is left alone—and finds herself. A good friend dies—and a baby is born. This is no exchange, one for the other, but a mix, and a mix of continuums. Struggles in one piece of the brain might overpower the acceptance in the heart. The abundance of your joy might possibly overcome the tinge of despair in my soul.
This quiet morning, in love with the glow of the lights, I grieve those we’ve lost, but feel such hope and joy for infants born and for the faces of the little ones so delighted by Christmas. I give thanks that the soldiers have returned from Iraq, while knowing that there are still thousands still there to “finish up,” thousands more in Afghanistan and other far places, many thousands of families grieving those who will never come home, other thousands wounded. I am anxious over the children with not enough to eat, and delighted that my jobless friends are going to work in January. The list goes on…good and bad, at the same time.
I am burdened by the condition of our country, but the load is made lighter when I see the goodness showered during this season. The real humanness, that of doing for each other, loving some that we may never know, checking our abundance in favor of sharing–it’s there, like those Advent candles. I forget it and lose it under the weight of worry and blame. I find it in a moment of just “being.”
Maybe there are angels watching over us. Their music reminds us that we are all continuing on, in the paradox, all waiting…together.
December By Gary Johnson, from The Writer’s Almanac
A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Dear Friends.