Advent Reflection: Waiting vs Preparing

Advent is a peculiar time of year.

This past Sunday in mass, the priest said Advent is one of the most reflective periods of our church calendar. That hasn’t been the case for me. My most reflective time is usually Lent. What starts off as a small, relatively manageable sacrifice transforms into a deprivation, an inconvenience, a grim deliberation and finally guilt that I was supposed to be “learning” something this entire time. By the end, however, I am somehow pushed over the edge and I step into a whole new frame of mind — one that actually is more “holy.” Nevertheless, Advent is not like this, for me. Advent has always been about anticipation, not learning.

Advent is peculiar because our country, our economy, and even sometimes our families teach us a material kind of anticipation for Christmas — and yet our God, our scripture and our church teach us that we are meant to be, basically, preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ within us: God being born in us and of us.

Two weeks ago, I made a proposition to my parents. This Christmas, I said, let’s not make it about spending. Let’s not make it about sweaters, or stockings, or stuff at all. Let’s limit ourselves to one gift per person and let’s say that it has to be under $50.

My Mom blinked at me.

My Dad narrowed his eyes and grinned, “Uhhh, NO.”

She giggled back, “you don’t want anything?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t want anything,” I replied, “just nothing over $50. There are fun gifts under $50. It makes it a challenge because you have to be creative.”

They both paused.

“That’s never going to happen,” my Dad said finally, as he forked a piece of chicken across the table from my Mom’s plate. And that was it.

I don’t blame my parents for their reaction, but it did not have a positive outcome. Without their communal support, my anti-materialism spirit melted to the ground. I found myself online every day shopping gym leggings, black boots, new jeans, clicking, scrolling, switching from window to window trying to decide what I should give to them to give to me for Christmas.

The truth is, this has already been a season of waiting for me — but of a different kind. I’ve been writing a book and I launched part of the website for it. I had no idea what Search Engine Optimization was, and without it my site was “off the map,” so I have been trying to make readership will grow. I would gladly give up my entire closet if I could wake up one morning and see the site traffic increased by a power of 10.

In the end, it was my own “writers curiosity” that caused me to notice that “waiting” and “anticipation” aren’t really the same thing. “Waiting” connotes a stagnant sort of watchfulness. As Miriam Webster defines it, anticipation is “the action of expecting or predicting;” or “a feeling of excitement that something is going to happen;” and it is also “the act of preparing for something.”

That’s exactly what Mary was doing in the weeks before Jesus’s birth. She wasn’t sitting like a bump on a log. She was meditating on the words of Gabriel, feeding herself for a healthy baby, building her relationship with Joseph so that he might be a better father and, of course, finding some place –  any place — for this child to be born. She wasn’t just pregnant, she was busy.

We forget that pregnancy is not just a block of time that must pass but a true cultivation and preparation. We forget that each birth brings a totally and completely new life. If we live advent, we cultivate the spirit that will allow God to shine a new life out from within us. And although the material gift I really want this Christmas is a clever internet marketer to light a candle under my site traffic, the gift I need this Advent is a spirit of increased patience, the vision to keep all things in perspective, and the faith to know that if I am on God’s plan then I am in the right place.