I remember so clearly what it was like, this time of year, about 25 years ago (okay, maybe more than 25... let's not talk about that, though, okay?). When the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like an eternity, and the closer Christmas came, the slower time seemed to move. It was agonizing--not to be overly dramatic--but, seriously, agonizing.
Today, I can't believe there's only a week left and not nearly time to do all the things remaining on my "want to do" list. Already I feel like I've missed the season--this season, that once upon a time seemed to last practically for-ev-er. I haven't found (okay, made) time to listen to my favorite cds, or watch my favorite movies, or read any of the numerous books in the book basket. I haven't made any salt-dough ornaments, or any sugar cookies, or any cinnamon bread. For all my attempts at daily blog posts and daily scrapbook pages and putting "pay attention" in bold print at the top of my list, I'm afraid Christmas will come and go and I will have missed it.
It's a very strange feeling, to be nostalgic about the old days, when being patient was a necessary and painful discipline, very nearly beyond my tolerance. I think maybe the patience I could barely show in my childhood was much more of a virtue than the thinly-disguised panic and loss I seem to experience as an adult. How I would love to experience Christmas with the kind of anticipation and eagerness that saturated my childhood!
It is difficult for me to relate to today's text from James... except when I think back to the waiting days of December all those years ago. How much more must the prophets have looked toward the coming Messiah... and how much more do we, still, today. But we can't learn to wait, and we can't learn the virtue of patience, when we are frantic, distracted every moment by the imagined imperatives of right-this-minute. We can't experience the joyful delight and the yearning of Advent when we've lost the child's sense of expectation for what is to come.
"Slowing down" is not an unusual reminder at this time of year; many people make every attempt to simplify the season, to de-commercialize Christmas, to focus on the reasons we celebrate. But I think maybe there's even more to it than that. Perhaps, as James reminds us, the very practice of patience is its own gift: it begins with excitement, lived out in faithful watching, and is rewarded by the promised arrival.
In the coming week, as the days seem to speed up even more, may we all experience the kind of slow-down that we knew as children: when, in our eagerness, we were able to learn how to wait.