A friend told me a story about Advent, children and Christmas – this is what happened.
She and her son were doing some Christmas shopping when the topic of someone else’s church came up. He was aware that his friend’s church was singing Christmas songs, even Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in the primary class. The primary teacher was using the song to open a teaching of “the reason for the season”. He wanted to know why our church didn’t sing Christmas songs until Christmas. His Mother responded, somewhat rhetorically, that we are waiting for Jesus until Christmas. This caused a furrowed brow, a moment of thought and then a cry of frustration. “We waited last year ! Now what are we waiting for ?!”
Seems like a fair question as we are surrounded by Deck the Halls and the Little Drummer Boy everywhere we go, and have been for weeks. What are we waiting for ???
The Gospel says we are awaiting Emmanuel – God with us. An incarnation of Godde’s love in human form. Divine love in a 5’4” dark haired, dark eyed man whose skin was leathered by the sun and wind of the desert climate. As was common in his culture, he likely used his hands a lot when he talked. A figure who looked a lot like a Palestinian of then, and today.
In our hymnal are two hymns that are particular favorites of mine. Both have verses written by Christina Rossetti. I’ve been at St. Pat’s Hospital a lot recently, and the harpist there and I were chuckling about how our church hymnals have cleaned up the lyrics to “In the Bleak Midwinter.” There is verse that has been left out that talks about the simple needs of the newborn child – breastful of milk and a manger of hay. Evidently too racy for Catholics and Episcopalians ! But the verse that resonates with me is the one that starts “our Godde, heaven can’t hold him, nor earth sustain, Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign” - Godde is propelled into our world as love, - and by love.
And then the other hymn by Rossetti – Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine – Love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.”
So, what are we waiting for ? This simple package of love – the obscure birth of a peasant boy – nursing at his young mother’s breast. This slight dark intense young man who used his hands when he exhorted people to embrace love ?
We get this package every year – and look at it, wondering what to do next. Its from Godde, so maybe we should put it under the tree, yes ? Seems to fit in well with the nativity scene that the kids made years ago out of popsicle sticks. It clearly was NOT wrapped at Nordstroms – it’s a bit rough for that. And then perhaps, it becomes part of the Christmas decorations. We place it on the shelf marked Christmas stuff and try to remember to open it or tuck in the rough edges – next year. It is from Godde, after all, and we wouldn’t want to offend…..
Some people will tell you that if you put it in the closet, when you go back to get it out next year, it will be gone. One chance only, and Godde snatches it back. I don’t believe that for a minute. In some households, I suspect it gets to be like the Velveteen Rabbit – a little more worn outside every year, but familiar. Oh yes, we think – it’s a gift from Godde and we can’t throw it out. Probably shouldn’t even rewrap it in gold foil and red ribbons to match the window décor. After all, it looks OK right next to the nativity set – the one the kids made – out of popsicle sticks.
Out of the mid-19th century, a poet tells us what is in there. Love incarnate, love divine. Love shall be our token, love be yours and love be mine. Love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign.
Or to paraphrase St. John, who understood the power of that love, Love is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes unto the Father but by Love.
Love is the vine and we are the branches.
And this is what we are waiting for. We do need to see it anew every year. Godde patiently puts it in our way – where we can trip over it, if need be. Where we bump into it as we put the beautifully wrapped ipods under the tree. We waited last year – and it came. We wait this year – and it comes again. Love comes down at Christmas. And if we open the gift, the effect on our heart can truly keep us busy and focused until next Advent, when we wait again, with new understanding.
In the name of Godde, Creator, Sanctifier and Redeemer.