Twenty Sunday school students sit in rapt attention as I roll out the Advent story. The script, the candles, the materials – they draw us in. As we get ready to hear the story of the Holy Family, the story for the second week of Advent, I say:
The church learned long ago that it takes time to enter a mystery like Christmas. They gave us four weeks to get ready. During that time, we are all on a journey. A journey that was not just back then. It’s now too.
Sometimes it’s hard to enter a mystery like Christmas. You need to come back again and again. If you are patient, if you keep coming back, the mystery of Christmas will open up for you. Right now, we are waiting. Waiting for the mystery of Christmas.
As we sit and enjoy the light – of the candles and of the story – I ask the kids what they are waiting for, what they hope will be in the small gold box I hold up, the mysterious box we open on Christmas. One girl says, “I’m waiting for more friends.”
A young boy is waiting for his mom to, “stop being sick.”
And one ten-year-old girl says with equal parts excitement and sorrow, “I’m waiting to have a Dad.”
Deep longings. That’s what the story of Advent can call out of us.
You might be wondering what Zach and Ezra said they were waiting for. What were their deep longings?
Have they not heard anything of the story that for many years we told nightly during Advent? Do they not know how embarrassing it is for the Sunday School teacher when her kids want toys more than they want Jesus?
I should mention here that we do not buy our kids Christmas presents. We go all out for their birthdays, but for Jesus’ birthday, we buy Jesus presents. But the few gifts (less than five) they get from family members are what make the holiday special for my boys.
My friend Kathy’s boss told her many years back that kids have it right at Christmas. Their fundamental posture is Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. They don’t pretend to have anything to offer. Instead, they are endless pits of desire. Presents, fathers, health – they want it all.
I understand where her boss is coming from, but quite frankly, I find the Gimmes distasteful. I admit that it’s delusional to think that we have something of our own to give the king of all creation. Anything we have to offer was first a gift he bestowed on us. Still, he tells us how to give him a gift: What you have done for the least of these you have done for me. Why not do that for Christmas?
When I was telling all of this to my spiritual director on Monday, she asked me, “What are you waiting for?”
“To be more patient with the boys and kinder to Jeff? To lose twenty pounds?”
“That’s how you want God to change you. But what are you waiting for Jesus to give you?”
That’s just like a spiritual director, isn’t it? You want to complain about everyone else’s misunderstanding of the gospel. You want to develop a systematic theology of desire. She wants to know what’s up with you and Jesus.
I sat there for a long time and could not come up with a single thing that he hasn’t already given me. In my distaste for the Gimmes, I seem to have thrown out all desire. So this Advent, I am waiting to discover what I am waiting for.
Lord, have mercy. And please, Gimme the Gimmes.
What about you? What are you waiting for?