Do you remember what it was like as a child waiting for Christmas? It was almost excruciating.
On Christmas Eve our family would get together, eat dinner, attend a Christmas service and then go to one of my aunts' houses. There we would unwrap gifts - we had a large family so we would draw names - and eat the delicacies that our mothers had prepared. Since my family lived a couple of hours away from everyone else, we would stay and spend Christmas morning with my Uncle Gary, Aunt Jeanne and my cousins Joy and Jamie. Since Jamie was so little, Joy and I would snuggle down under the covers in her room, talk for a bit and then as I was starting to drift off my younger cousin would start hearing things.
"Santa's on the roof," she would whisper loudly.
"What?" I asked, suddenly awake.
"I heard reindeer," she said.
We both became quiet and strained to hear the reindeer hooves on the roof.
"I don't hear anything," I said and rolled over. Again, as soon as I was about ready to dream of sugar plums like the children in "The Night Before Christmas," my cousin would shake me.
"I heard them this time," she said.
"No you didn't," I said.
"Yes, I did!"
Ignoring her, I rolled over and realized that the light in the living room was still on. I could hear our parents laughing and there were some clunking noises but the sound wasn't coming from the roof.
"Our parents are still awake," I said.
"What are they doing?" Joy said.
"I don't know," I replied, pushing back the covers. "But I gotta go to the bathroom."
We jumped out of bed in a flash and ran down the hall giggling. We ran into the bathroom and Joy slammed the door. When we came out, the figure of my aunt loomed before us.
"Why are you awake?" she asked.
"We had to go to the bathroom," Joy said innocently.
I noticed that it was really quiet out in the living room.
"Go back to bed," Aunt Jeanne said. "Otherwise Santa will not come."
That was all Joy needed. She ran down the hall and I followed, now feeling skeptical about the entire Santa Claus thing for the first time. I laid in the dark after that, listening to the clunking out in the living room, thinking about the Grand Deception. As I was about to drift off to sleep, Joy kicked me on the back of the legs.
"I can't go to sleep," she whispered.
"Try," I said. This time sleep did not escape me. The next thing I knew, it was morning and we were both awake before the crack of dawn. We had strict orders not to get up before 7 a.m. so we waited again.
There was a good "haul" that year. I received my first bicycle. It was definitely worth the wait.
The Advent season emphasizes waiting. We are waiting for the Lord to return and we think about the Jews waiting for their Messiah all those years. There were literally thousands of years that passed between the promises of the Messiah and the actual coming of Jesus. Now more than 2,000 years have passed since Christ's ascension and promise to return to earth. We're still waiting. It's been a long time. Will the Lord still find us anticipating his coming like we did as children awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus?
Although the imminent arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is folklore that parents pass on to their children to add excitement to the season and to get their children to behave, the promise of Christ's return to earth is true. We believe this by faith and because of the witness of the people who walked with Jesus and heard his words firsthand. As we believe, our faith increases and we look forward to the time when Christ will come and make everything right with the world.
Here is the Advent prayer that our family prayed on the second Sunday:
Lord, our God, we praise you for your son, Jesus Christ, for he is Emmanuel, the hope of all people.
He is the wisdom that teaches and guides us.
He is the Savior of us all.
O Lord, let your blessing come upon us as we light the first and second candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ's promise of salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this in his holy name.
We light a candle today, a small dim light against a world that often seems forbidding and dark. But we light it because we are a people of hope, a people whose faith is marked by an expectation that we should always be ready for the coming of the master. The joy and anticipation of this season is captured beautifully in the antiphons of hope from the monastic liturgies:
See! The ruler of the earth shall come, the Lord who will take from us the heavy burden of our exile.
The Lord will come soon, will not delay.
The Lord will make the darkest places bright.
We must capture that urgency today in the small flame of our candle. We light the candle because we know that the coming of Christ is tied to our building of the kingdom. Lighting the flame, feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, reconciling the divided, praying for the repentant, greeting the lonely and forgotten - all of these works hastens his coming.
- Source unknown
May we eagerly await Christ's coming with the anticipation of a child. I pray that this Advent season will prepare you for a wondrous Christmas.