As we cross off the next date on the Advent calendar or light the next candle on the wreath, it's good to remember that we're all counting the days to something.
''Five, four, three, two, one, zero ... all engines running ... liftoff. We have liftoff." Every eye was glued to the small television wheeled into the classroom on the AV cart. When I was a kid, the whole world and everything in it stopped for a minute or two whenever NASA launched a rocket into space. It's hard to imagine anything like that happening today. But then, everyone was locked in anticipation. It didn't matter who you were, how old you were, where you lived, or what you did for a living, countdowns on TV or radio brought us all together. In that last minute or two before launch, we were all waiting for the same thing.
The countdown to Christmas was an extended version of this. By Thanksgiving, the number of remaining shopping days was posted in most retail windows. And as the days passed, increasingly panicked holiday shoppers flooded city department stores and suburban malls to hunt down hard-to-find items. There was something joyously chaotic about it all, especially the feeling of victory that came with crossing off the last name on the handwritten list we managed to hide from the kids.
All that has changed. The shopping season starts much earlier, but much of what we all used to experience is gone. There's not much wandering from store to store. Fewer elaborate Christmas displays. Smaller crowds. Far less holiday music everywhere we go, mostly because we don't go much of anywhere at all. Now the click, click, click that used to be "up on the housetop" has moved online.
The season is quieter than it used to be, but somehow the stress hasn't decreased. If anything, it's worse. I think that's because all that bustle was, in a strange way, comforting. It told us that we weren't alone, that below the surface and in some meaningful way, we were all waiting for the same thing, even when it didn't look like we were.
"She's been here two months and 19 days." A snippet of conversation I overheard as I walked by a door to our local jail reminded me of what Advent really is: a time to get in touch with whatever we're waiting for and the people who are waiting with us.
As we cross off the next date on the Advent calendar or light the next candle on the wreath, it's good to remember that we're all counting the days to something. Today, a prisoner is waiting to be released. A woman will be told she's pregnant. Someone will hear that they have three to six months to live. A teenager will apply for a job. A couple will get engaged. An addict will mark three years sober. A retired priest will die.
So very much of our lives is spent in anticipation. The funny thing is that we don't know what each day will bring. We are often caught off-guard because we don't know exactly what we are waiting for. But our faith tells us that we can know who we're waiting for. God is present in all our circumstances. And he is waiting with us.
Our God is the God who comes. He does not remain distant or leave us to fend for ourselves. He shows up when we need him most -- and even when we want him least. And that is what Advent is for. It isn't a countdown to the next rocket blast but an opportunity to recognize how God is present in our lives and how he has been all along. It's a chance to stop everything, listen, and realize that others around us have stopped and are listening too. It's a time to look forward, yes. But more than that, Advent is a time to look upward, knowing that the countdown to eternal glory has begun.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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