Now the people were filled with expectation…
The week before Thanksgiving, I wrapped the Christmas gifts which my husband and I had already purchased. When he asked why I was determined to do this, I reminded him of our older son’s Advent discontent years earlier when he was in high school. Mike the Younger was having a tough time of it because I was a little too adept at keeping Christmas gifts “under wraps” before Christmas morning. Apparently, his friends’ parents wrapped and displayed gifts as soon as they were purchased. This allowed their offspring to engage in some good-natured detective work regarding what each package might contain. All of this added to their anticipation of their families’ gift exchanges. These antics also likely added to the joy Christmas morning when various guesses regarding the gifts at hand were proven to be accurate or not.
I gave a good deal of thought to my elder son’s complaint that year. I also considered his often reluctant and sometimes wholehearted participation in our family’s Advent traditions. Young Mike participated in our trek to Wisconsin for a Christmas Tree that year, but showed little interest in decorating it. When asked what he might like for Christmas, this son of ours provided a few ideas which implied that this wasn’t necessarily his main focus at the moment. At the same time, he quizzed his younger brother frequently about the contents of his Christmas wish list. Our elder child vacillated between wanting to celebrate and trying to ignore what had once been his favorite day of the year.
In an effort to rekindle the Joy of Christmas in my offspring, I decided to comply with his suggestion regarding our gifts. Since his younger brother had come to a “revised” understanding of Santa’s role in all of this, I knew there was no danger of ruining his Christmas in the process. When Mike came home from school that afternoon, I told him that I thought his idea of getting the gifts ready early was great. I added, “It’ll drive Tim and Dad crazy trying to figure out what we’ve gotten them.” Never mind that my elder son would join his dad and brother in this wondering! Every few days thereafter, I added a gift to our Christmas cache. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much package shaking. I think my three men feared ruining any surprises in the offing. They did, however, look very carefully to detect even the smallest change in the configuration of gifts which awaited them. In the process, they huddled together often to discuss the possibilities. In the end, the joyful anticipation of Christmas returned to our home.
As I look back upon that long-passed Advent, it occurs to me that my son probably didn’t actually care all that much about gifts being displayed early on. What did concern him was the sense of expectation that he had enjoyed as a little boy and that he could not recapture as a young man. Mike envied his friends’ opportunity to relish the promise of Christmas that their gifts represented. My son also wanted more than a one-day celebration which would come and go with the ticking of the clock. Though he likely didn’t realize it, Mike wanted and needed an experience which lasted the entire season! In a roundabout way, my dear son found this in the family tradition which we initiated that year and in the many other traditions which are part and parcel of our family Christmases. This is the reason I prepared this year’s gifts early. Though the flu kept my son Mike and his family from examining those gifts on Thanksgiving Day, there is still plenty of time for them to peek at the wrapped treasures where a hint of the promise of Christmas Joy lies.
You know, the people who awaited the Messiah were restless and unsure of that coming, much like my son who wrestled with the coming of Christmas. Their sometimes intense expectation was often overshadowed by their extremely difficult lives under Roman rule. In his gospel (Luke 3:10-18), Luke tells us that God responded to the people’s angst through John the Baptist. John rekindled the people’s anticipation with the good news that the Messiah already walked among them. John did everything to ensure that those who heard him took notice. Luke tells us that the people held onto John’s every word and were “…filled with expectation.” They rejoiced because something great was in the making. Finally, this life’s imperfections faded in the joy of a promise fulfilled. Though we hear John the Baptist’s message two millenniums later than his contemporaries, the good news remains the same. The Messiah continues to walk among us. All the while, he fills us with joyful anticipation of the moment at hand and of the amazing things to come!
©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved