The end of waiting

Regretfully today is the last day of Advent, the waiting for the coming of the Messiah.

I say regretfully because the manufactured elation of Christmas never seems to resonate with the real joy—or the real misery—of the world I live in.

On the first Sunday of Advent I attended East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., to hear the first sermon by their new associate pastor, Samantha Lioi.

She spoke from Psalm 25: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul,... for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love...”

“Soul” in that translation, she said, comes from the Hebrew word glossed nefesh which means “all of me, the deepest me.” “Wait” is drawn from words for twist or stretch—it’s the image of “a strong cord bearing the tension of the waiting.” “Mercy” comes from raham, a word for womb, “like the tenderness of a mother for a child she has carried in her own body.”

So the poet represents a period of unreasonable tension, hanging on a wire and bargaining with God to remember the reasons s/he should be allowed to live.

This is the world I inhabit. Christmas exists, but in little patches. It has not gone viral. Tomorrow, while opening presents or attending mass, most of me and most of the people I see will remain in Advent, waiting.

  • We wait for a time when “Black lives matter” precisely because “all lives matter.”
  • We wait for Christians to stand up for love and stand down violence.
  • We wait for health coverage that prevents illness.
  • We wait for governments to spend more on education than incarceration.
  • We wait for employers to value people enough that employees can come to work healthy and well-fed.

Guilt is stupid. I will not avoid celebrating because bad things exist.

But I do want to be honest with myself: there’s a lot of Advent in the world, and no amount of tinsel is going to cover it up.

The lesson taught by Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey and the Grinch is that Christmas is not tinsel—it’s a contagion. Tomorrow I celebrate as an act of insurrection. And in the coming weeks I will work to inject Christmas into as much of this Advent-laden life as I can manage.

Twelve days of Christmas are not enough.