You can almost feel electricity in the air this time of year. You can see the physical tension between “hurry up” and “wait” hunching everyone’s shoulders as they try to power through. Billions of people are buzzing around, furiously preparing for something. Another close of a business year. Looming family gatherings. The expectation of a perfect holiday meal. The culmination of multiple shopping attempts to prove our love for one another.
Decorate. Clean. Wrap. Schedule. Mail. Don’t forget anything. Don’t forget anyone. Travel. Hurry. Wait.
Have you ever asked anyone what they are waiting for? Many will tell you all this work and scurry and preparation is to grasp that one perfect moment when it all comes together – when we can finally collectively exhale and sink down deep into the peace and quiet we are longing for. Does it ever really come, or do we barrel right through it? I’m not sure collapsing from exhaustion counts. It’s as if we’re so numb we have to crank the stress up higher every year so we can actually feel the free fall afterwards.
The past couple years I’ve been going through a transformation. It’s like I’m waking up from a deep sleep and noticing things I should have noticed all along – mostly that the physical so often reflects the spiritual. Humanity can’t quite grasp what needs to happen spiritually, so it’s manifested physically through our actions, our relationships, our traditions, and even our mundane everyday living. The eternal question is whether we will notice and act accordingly or continue drowsily going through the motions.
I’ve been trying to do it different this year. Of course, I say that every year, parroting in unison with everyone else. “Jesus is the reason for the season.” “It’s not the presents but the presence that matters.” But then I would go right on buzzing with the rest of the world, actions speaking louder than words. So this year I tried something new.
I’m sinking into the quiet now instead of later.
In the quiet, there’s room to ponder the questions.
What are we really waiting for?
Why do we even need to prepare?
We know we need to do something – we’re hardwired for the waiting and the preparing. It’s manifesting physically in every step we take between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
In the quiet, there’s room for His answers. I’m reading the book of Isaiah, experiencing a world from long ago groaning for a Savior and hearing the words of a prophet, sharing the promises of God.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” ~Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
Immanuel, God with us – that is what the world was aching for. Jesus is that one perfect moment when it all came together. That moment when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
But that was then and this is now. Of course those people needed to prepare, because the Savior hadn’t come yet. But now we know better. He came and He saved us. So we are tempted to breeze through the familiar stories and get back to the celebration that was already on store shelves the day after Halloween. We pat ourselves on the back for patiently waiting long enough to survive Black Friday and buy our happiness at 75% off.
So do we really know better? Have we already finished preparing our souls, leaving all the time in the world for decorations and food and parties and shopping? Or are we overdosing on physical to make up for the lack of spiritual?
I flip to the book of Malachi, the last warnings before a 400 year wait for the Messiah. Malachi speaks of a people offering unworthy sacrifices and insincere worship. A tossing aside of God’s laws because they saw no immediate ramifications. A community who has forgotten God is a great and holy King, worthy of the highest reverence. A society who doesn’t give their first and full tithes and can barely bring themselves to go through the motions.
Is Malachi describing ancient people who will never make it to heaven without the coming Messiah? Or is he describing current people who are risking heaven because they are ignoring the Messiah who came? Instead of seeing warnings that have been heeded and sins that have long been conquered, are we seeing history repeat itself?
This longing I have that started before the Thanksgiving turkey was cold…this longing to blast the Christmas music and get all the decorations out and the presents bought and the meal planned and the parties scheduled and the photos posted…is it real preparation and celebration? Or is it a physical interpretation of a spiritual preparation that needs to occur in my soul?
The flickering glow of my Advent candles is reminding me this is supposed to be a season of prayer, penance and sacrifice. The empty manger is begging me to slow down and anticipate the arrival of our Savior.
And so we wait.
They were waiting for the Messiah to be born. We are waiting for Him to return.
And so we should prepare, using each physical task as a reminder to align with the spiritual preparation. As I physically clean my house to prepare for guests, I’m led to spiritually clean my heart to prepare for Jesus. As I’m continually tempted to buy more, I’m spiritually led to seek more of Him instead. There are times this approach has stopped me in my tracks and sent me to my prayer closet instead of my decoration closet. There are lights that are not yet hung and decisions not yet made and cards not yet sent because I’m putting my time where my mouth was. Reflecting, repenting, sacrificing. Doing instead of just saying.
I know it all sounds kind of heavy. But I think we know it’s supposed to be a little bit heavy – that’s why we subconsciously keep cranking up the stress. Maybe we’re just incredibly unbalanced between the physical and the spiritual. What if we redirected the heavy into where it truly belongs? What if we asked ourselves whether we are really ready for Him to return?
In setting aside the physical and tuning into the spiritual during Advent, I haven’t forgotten about the joy that is coming Christmas morning. But feeling the full weight of the waiting has been more meaningful and fulfilling than blinding myself with tinsel and lights and celebrations that are too loud and too early. Changing my physical reality has given my soul a chance to breathe, to change, to prepare.
Will you join me today, on this last Sunday of Advent?
I’m setting down the weight of the to-do list so I can feel the full weight of the waiting.
I’m letting go of everything that was in my hands so I can open them wide for the gifts He wants to give us.
I’m turning down the buzz to prepare for the sound of angels singing.
I’m looking away from the commotion and fixing my eyes on heaven…
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior. The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands. ~Isaiah 45:8; Psalm 18:2 (DRA)
Glory be to the Father. Drop down…
(Introit, Fourth Sunday in Advent, Roman Catholic Daily Missal)