The bright yellow star on this year’s family Advent Calendar invited us to “light a candle and spend a minute watching the flame. Share with others what it was like to wait and what you noticed about the light.” I dutifully brought a candle, match and timer to our Children and Youth Ministry staff meeting so that we could participate in the same activity as our families. I set the timer, and we all sat watching the flame.
I was convinced it had been a minute and glanced at my phone, but only 21 seconds had passed. I checked again at 29, 37 and 43 seconds. What would have happened if we had spent an extra 12 seconds looking at the light? What if we had spent a whole two minutes in the exercise? I know that I kept checking because I was worried about time. Worried that we didn’t have enough time to pause during a meeting where we needed to review details for Sunday School, the Advent Workshop, Reindeer Games, Wee Christmas, and a Live Nativity. When I called time and asked people what they noticed, we all commented on how difficult it had been to sit still for a whole minute. We noticed how stopping felt almost unnatural. Even waiting for a minute felt like too much to ask when there is so much to do.
Part of Advent is getting ready for Christmas — the practical preparations that allow us to celebrate with friends and family and the logistical preparations to get people to the right places at the right times. In that rush toward Christmas, we forget that we also are waiting. Waiting is uncomfortable — whether it’s in a doctor’s office, on a reply from a colleague, on a package that hasn’t arrived, or for some clarity on what happens next. Part of waiting is holding in tension what we can control and the things that we cannot. I realized thinking about that long, long minute looking at the light (and glancing at my phone), is that I had been worried that spending a minute with the light would mean a minute of preparation would be lost, and somehow the pieces of the season would fall apart.
This year we are trying something new. In place of the traditional family Christmas Eve service at 4:30 p.m., we are hosting an outdoor Live Nativity from 1:00-3:30 p.m. Families and friends will walk through the story, seeing the prophets prophecy, Mary and Joseph make their way, the shepherds keeping watch, and the Magi charting the stars.
Right now, the cast list is pretty solid — we have 40 actors (the list keeps growing), a donkey, a calf/llama, some sheep, and a few goats. The costumes are out of storage, and with a little effort, the wrinkles will be out of the angel’s robes by the 24th. There’s a manger that will be completed this Sunday, a giant star waiting to be coated in gold, and mirrors to reflect the light.
There are plenty of details to be finalized, and plenty of pieces that we cannot control. As those pieces fall into place, I hope I can be brave enough to pause and enjoy the light of this season: the love you are extending to one another, the joy our children share in telling the story of Christmas, the peace that surprises us in quiet moments, and the certain hope that God is at work in these hurried and busy days.