Yesterday I received another one of my routine junk emails from Redbox with the subject line: “Instant Gratification”. I instantly deleted it, taking some gratification from that act! But Redbox’s empty promise of instant gratification lingered in my mind as an unfortunate sign of the times. Regardless of how much we try to slow down the pace, it is difficult not to get swept along in the popular – and not necessarily ‘Christian’ – frenzy of the Christmas season. We start up the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. The Christmas tree and all the festive decorations make their appearance in our homes as early as possible. We set up an “I can’t wait” anticipation in the hearts of our children and ourselves. And often we don’t wait to gratify our holiday longings, be they longings for things we want or be they Christmas Eve carols that we want to sing 4 weeks too early. But waiting may just be a very valuable spiritual discipline. Waiting teaches us something about God and something about ourselves, that we cannot learn by frenzying from one instant gratification to the next.
A young woman became pregnant and waited nine months for the birth of her very special son. A prophet spoke the promise “God is with us” some 700 years before the birth of “Emmanuel”. After two millennia the Church continues to wait in eager expectation for the coming of her Bridegroom. Since the dawn of history when sin entered into the world, the whole of creation has been waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. And the joy of a life spent in fellowship with God is a joy that is seldom born of instant gratification.
Some of my most memorable Christmas celebrations stem from the time that Karen and I lived in Germany. I remember especially our first Christmas there. We had crafted our Advent Wreath with the four candles to light, week by week, through the four Sundays of Advent until all 4 candles could give their light. Our landlords promised they would provide a Christmas tree and decorations for us so that we didn’t have to worry about that. The first Sunday of Advent came and went with no tree. Then the second Sunday, then the third Sunday, and coming up on the 4th Sunday…still no Christmas tree. We young American students were worried. Would we even HAVE a tree this year? Did our landlords forget their promise? Should we say something to them to remind them? Coming up on Christmas Eve we began to grow desperate and I started to look around town where I might find a small tree that I could carry home (we had no car!). And then it appeared, on Christmas Eve, a lovely little “Tannenbaum” and candles to place on it to light up for Christmas Eve. We’ve had more majestic trees in years since, but few as memorable. And, in honor of that lesson of waiting, we still do not have a tree up in our home as I write this blog. It will be a lot closer to Christmas Eve – and it will have live candles on it!
Advent steers us away from instant gratification and reminds us that the Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. There is good cheer and deep joy to be discovered in waiting on the Lord!
Dennis R. Lindsay Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty