I grew up with Alvin and the Chipmunks. I’m not particularly happy about this; I would prefer not to have Alvin’s high pitched voice rattling around in my head as Christmas approaches. I do admit, however, to having identified with the sentiment expressed in the Chipmunk’s Christmas song: “We can hardly stand to wait. Please Christmas, don’t be late.” When I was young I wanted Christmas to hurry up and get here. As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that there is something to Advent, the four week period of preparation that precedes Christmas. Previously, I had little appreciation for its message which is: WAIT!
Whether or not you celebrate Advent and Christmas, you are probably familiar with waiting. Seasons of waiting have their own spiritual rhythm that cannot be rushed, try though we might to do so. I have begun to see their value. Not that I am particularly enamored with run of the mill waiting, even though lot of life is spent this way. Waiting happens — in a traffic jam, in a checkout line, for an appointment, for a call to be returned, for test results to come back, for tomorrow to come. Seasons such as Advent invite us not just to tolerate waiting, but to explore it, to probe its significance, to elevate it from an unwanted byproduct of our existence to a spiritual discipline. We are called to wait, with neither indifference nor impatience, but with attentive awareness and expectant hope.
For many, religiously observant or not, this time of year involves a great deal of active preparation. On the cultural front, there are gifts to wrap, cards to send, goodies to bake and parties to plan. For those involved in church life, Advent often includes music to practice, extra worship services and study sessions to attend, and added opportunities to care for neighbors in need. These are important undertakings, but readying ourselves spiritually involves attentive waiting as well as active preparation. Attentive waiting is not just hanging out until the next thing arrives. It is an invitation to be present to the here and now, and to accept the psalmist’s invitation amid our busyness to “be still and know God.” Be still and know. Be still. Be. Seasons such as Advent summon us to embrace our vocations as a human beings, rather than human doings, and to find value in each moment, waiting and listening.
John Lennon gave voice to the wisdom of times like Advent when he sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We are beckoned to be attentive to the spirit’s stirring in our midst not solely during great festivals like Christmas, but amid the seeming mundaneness of waiting and preparation. In his book Let Your Life Speak, Quaker author Parker Palmer writes, “before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” This is good Advent advice. Listen for the still small voice amid all the earthquake, wind and fire that swirl around us.
Our preparations often propel us forward to the big day of Christmas and push us into an exhausted frenzy that leaves us spent. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, we can pause, be still, and listen. Christmas will come. In the meantime, enjoy the wait.
• Phil Campbell is the pastor of Northern Light United Church