It's an interesting time of the year.
A time when the world seems to kind of collectively catch its breath and wait for something else to happen.
Elections are over, harvests are in, and even the school year is well on its way to being half over already. Even with the crazy-warm weather that's bounced its way across parts of the U.S. recently, it is still, from time to time, beginning to look and feel like it should at this time of the year, with bare trees, cold nights and little-boy dreams of snowstorms just in time for Christmas.
But there's something else going on, as well. Something even more important than Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the unending rush to shop and buy.
It is the season of Advent, a four-week period of preparation and anticipation that is filled with rich traditions of its own. For many, those four weeks pass by virtually unnoticed, shoved aside by the hyper-commercial December days leading up to Christmas. But the time of Advent can offer us an opportunity for thinking, hoping, watching, waiting, wondering and praying about the real reason for the season. It is a time to learn and grow, as Father Ernie Ruede, our local parish priest noted in his first Advent homily this year.
Because really, it's not Christmastime yet.
Sometimes, though, that's a tough one to remember.
First off, it is, most definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. While Church tradition says that Christmas decor, music and other red, green and white trappings of that glorious season are really supposed to wait until Christmas Eve, we caved in quick to our own desire to share the fun of the upcoming season with our youngest grandsons, who are, after all, the key reasons we decided to stay in North Carolina through December this year. So, we've got a tree already, along with some wreaths and a long garland of lighted evergreen trailing down our outside staircase. Letters to Santa Claus have been written, and both grandsons are well aware of the need to be extra good lest their tiny transgressions reach the ears of Saint Nick. In fact, it occurs to me that the tradition of Advent as a time for prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy has had some strong influences on the concept of "good for goodness sake" that drives the behavior of many young souls this time of year.
We've tried to blend a bit of Advent wisdom into the season we're sharing with our grandboys, while working on our own behavior, as well. For me, its been my first-time-in-a-long-time participation in a church folk choir, where I've struggled, at times, with the need to play well with others, rather than just doing my own thing.
"Learn and grow," she reminded me as I grumbled about a piece of music I felt we were performing at too slow a pace. "Learn and grow."
She learned a lesson in patience and humility when she whipped up the batter for some bread she planned to share with her knitting class buddies, only to discover that the special pan she dragged out from Illinois because it holds a dozen mini-loaves was much too big for the tiny oven at our beach house, which is more akin, size-wise, to the Kenner Easy-Bake Oven she played with as a girl. I attempted to save the day with a mindless set of suggestions involving our outdoor gas grill and approximately 150 yards of aluminum foil. The results, no kidding, were less than stellar--undone on top and coal-burnt black on the bottoms.
"Learn and grow," she repeated in a surprisingly perky and philosophic manner. "This would have made a good episode on my reality cooking show."
But it was the little boys who surprised us with their capacity for learning and growing in the midst of the busy season. Six-year-old Cyrus, who, I swear, never seems to really hear me unless I'm mentioning ice cream, checkers, basketball or bouncy-houses, showed he was listening when his dad--quite by chance--tuned in some Christmas music on the car radio a couple of days before Thanksgiving was even over. Paddy suggested they join in on a chorus of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," when Cyrus startled him with his reply.
"Grandpa says it's too early for Christmas music," he said.
Paddy laughed and said that I probably wouldn't mind.
"No," said Cyrus. "We'd better wait for Christmas."
Even four-year-old John got into the act when, after a long discussion on elves, toys, sleighs and reindeers, he fielded a question with exactly the right answer.
Me: So who's coming on Christmas?
And so, we do our best to appreciate a season of both reflection and anticipation.
We try to remember to look deep into our own hearts. To listen. To wait. To wonder.
To learn and to grow.