“The Road Goes Ever On and On,” or so sings Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Advent is over. And as is typical for someone working in retail — even monastic retail (!) — for me it was a blur. It was a time of stolen moments of rest and reflection, rather than a truly immersed season of waiting. I leave Advent 2009 behind, still waiting, still waiting for the day, most likely after I retire, when the demands of my work will not compete with the call of the liturgical season.
I know I am not alone in this paradoxical place of waiting for the season of waiting. The key I took from this year’s Advent is my insight that Benedict’s call for monks (and, by extension, monastic lay associates like myself) to live “a continual Lent” can, it seems to me, be expanded to include “a continual Advent.” For aren’t we always in a place of waiting? We wait in line at the Post Office. We wait for traffic to clear up. We wait for a head cold to run its course so we can return to work. We wait for warm weather, and then we wait for cool weather. And on and on it goes.
Perhaps the real message of Advent lies in the invitation to celebrate all those times of waiting. To look for the hidden presence of God in all of our waitings, so that the line at the Post Office is no longer quite so annoying, or the unpleasant weather can be its own source of grace and wonder, enabling us to live in the present moment rather than just waiting our lives away. In other words, waiting is always something that happens in the present, in relation to something anticipated in the future. A prisoner waits for parole. A young lover waits to hear from his or her beloved. An elderly man like my father waits to die, not with morbidity or desperation, but with a serenity and placidity that I find both amazing and inspiring. Advent, I believe, teaches us to celebrate the gift of the present in the waiting-for-the-future. It doesn’t take away the power and the promise that the future holds. But it reminds us that, in a very real way, the present is all we have. We are always impoverished, and a sign of our poverty is our lack of ownership of either the past or the future. And of course, there is profound grace in this.
So while I am waiting for the Advent when I no longer have to work long hours and weekends, I am invited to celebrate each messy imperfect Advent that I am given. But not now. Now I am invited to celebrate the messy imperfect Christmas season that is now upon us.
And so are you.
Happy Christmas, and thanks for reading.