I have two children that live for Christmas. They have been making their gift lists since early fall and have been reminding us daily to open the Advent calendar boxes as we count down the days. And every day, they sigh at how much longer they will have to wait (even though we're down to ten days). Meanwhile, I'm counting down the days until my own holiday break from work. There is so much to do, but I'm intentionally trying to let go of tasks so that I can actually enjoy this season. Waiting, instead of rushing around, sounds like a terrific luxury. I watch my kids and I can remember my own childhood anticipation of Christmas, along with the anxiety. Would I get what I wanted?
I can also remember the letdown after Christmas, and continue to experience it. Once the wrapping paper is no longer strewn around, the anticipation quickly turns into boredom. It's about this time that my kids start fighting with one another since they have run out of other things to do. I'm always surprised, although I shouldn't be. It's the way of humankind. We long for what we don't have, and once we receive it, it's no longer important to us. The buildup can only last for so long, and then we crash into disappointment on our return to reality.
If getting the things we want doesn't make us happy, what happens when we don't receive that for which we had hoped? I'm not talking about material gifts, but the promises of Advent that we share as we light candles on our wreaths: hope, peace, love, and joy. Sure, we have been given these gifts, and can each point to examples of them in our lives. But there remains an unfulfilled longing. We continue to wait even as Advent ends and a new liturgical season begins. We wonder if our waiting will last forever.
The holiday season brings grief to many; those who have lost loved ones and those who are lonely or overwhelmed. For some people (especially ministers) the demands are too high for a time when we are called to remember peace and goodwill. When the news is so hopeless, how can we find Christmas cheer? And what is our hope in the New Year when our Christmas wishes have not been realized? We are still waiting on the Messiah to bring us peace (even as we claim this gift of the Holy Spirit). We are angry and saddened by the injustices of our world and we feel hopeless about how to right the wrongs. We are tired and feel like the darkness might just win as we extinguish the candles on the Advent wreath.
We know that on this journey of faith, there is no arriving at a destination. Like the Israelites wandering in their circuitous journey through the wilderness, we move in circles through the year from Advent to Lent and back again. We never "get there", but we continue to become; we are continually transformed by our path. We catch glimmers of hope in the light that guides us, like the stars and fire that guided the cloud of witnesses before us. We see bits of the Divine in our neighbors and sometimes in our own hazy reflections. We rise and fall and rise again. We search for peace in our world, and not seeing it, realize that we must first find it within ourselves. Faith is this continual holding on to hope even when all seems hopeless; it is the continued striving for peace when the act of seeking it seems like a war within us and between those outside of our community of similarity.
In this season, the only thing I know to do is to let go. My own expectations often stand in the way of receiving what I truly need, so I will try to live in the faith that I will be gifted with what I need. I will trust in the presence of God that is working in and through me, to bring redemption in the brokenness and to renew our hope. I will believe what I shared in my Advent sermons that even when the Advent wreath candles are extinguished, the light of Christ lives on within us. May we find the Light of the World that we seek so that we, too, can shine; helping others walking in darkness to see the bright light of hope.