My in-laws have a fatal failing, a form of group character flaw, that I can’t reconcile with: they don’t wait until Christmas to open their presents.
We usually spend Christmas with my family, and my husband’s family is spread out across several states, so we usually just mail gifts. Mailing gifts and them arriving a week or so before Christmas is very normal in this day and age, but let me ask you — what do you do with the gifts when they arrive?
You, like most good American Christians, presumably stick them under the tree to be opened on Christmas. You cannot imagine my horror when we received a box of gifts from Andrew’s parents in mid-December the first year we were married (mostly dishware because newlyweds) and he just went ahead and opened them all and put them in the cabinets! On like, the 16th!
He was baffled by my outrage — insisting that the gifts were for us, and they arrived, so of course he opened them. Why would he just keep the unopened box in the apartment until the 25th? Its dishware, not an avocado, it’s not going to ripen into a better gift.
He didn’t get it, though — half of the point of Christmas is a celebration of waiting. Of course, you could open the gifts early, but then you miss seeing them under the tree — little kids shaking the presents, admiring the pretty wrapping paper — and more importantly, you miss out on getting to be together, giving, for some families, the most open expressions of appreciation and love to each other that they do all year.
Advent, the formal liturgical season of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, is, at its core, a celebration of waiting. It’s four weeks of waiting with joy and hope because you know what’s coming, because you are “sure of what is hoped for,” (Heb 11:1). We sing songs, we light candles, we read liturgies, that are all focused around the building of a story, of waiting, for the birth of Jesus, for the sun coming over the horizon, for the moment when light breaks through.
Because we know it’s coming.
And that hope transforms this season of darkness, of winter, of pre-dawn. The season of waiting, instead of being centered around current absence, is centered around future presence. That hope infects the way we live and pray and be in relationship with each other — because while there is much that can feel lonely and broken and sad, we know that Jesus comes, and that the best is yet to come. We know that God incarnates Godself into our world over and over and over again, and that the story of Christmas, is each of our stories as well, of God showing up in our lives and changing everything.
The waiting then, isn’t impatient waiting, it’s waiting with bated breath, it’s joyful waiting, it’s waiting with delight and wonder at what God is up to this time, and where God is going to show up next.
May we delight in the celebration of waiting this month, and soak in what a gift it is to have such a great hope. May we keep our eyes peeled on the horizon for that first bit of sunlight, and on our neighborhood for God’s presence, and for all that is good in the world…
May my in-laws put the presents under the tree until Christmas.
Director of Youth Ministries