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The waiting year

Listening, grieving, and preparing our way to a new year.

“Heap on more wood! The wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.”

Sir Walter Scott

When I was little, my mother quilted an advent calendar. It was a pre-printed fabric scene – chipmunks making popcorn chains, I believe – that she made three-dimensional with batting and stitches, and 24 small red hoops stitches on for Hershey’s kisses, two for each hoop. One day, my older sisters would claim the chocolates, the next, I’d share with my little brother. A spot of sweetness every other day, and wasn’t it wonderful to see the chocolates go and know that Christmas was coming close and closer?

With kids of my own now, I like to keep things similar and a little different, too, so each year, we make a new Advent calendar. Last year, it was clothes pegs, chocolate coins and stapled paper pouches. For a few years when the kids were small and at home, we made advent mobiles to suspend over our table, making a new decoration every day: donkeys, holly and stars. One year, we had a candle with numbers along its length. The candle widened towards to base and each day we had to sit a little longer together at the table to watch the number melt away.

This year, I’ve printed pages with the calendar dates and words from scripture, hymns and seasonal quotations, and the kids have provided art for each one. We had a couple of quiet evenings making art together at the table after supper, and now throughout Advent, we have one page on the table every evening, a pause that helps our waiting. And we eat chocolate coins.

Prepare for light

Waiting can be hard. Hard for children, hard for adults, too. And every year we do it. Maybe all this waiting is foolish. Why are we waiting again? This year – perhaps particularly in this already-too-long waiting year – we might feel justified in jumping to the feast. But just as a fire takes time to kindle and grow, so Christmas is a process. Through Advent, we listen to the prophets who peered into the dark and sang out the promises of God. We grieve with the mourning in the long waiting days. And we prepare. Each candle, each pause, each prayer, and even each chocolate is part of that process as we gather light, hope and sweetness to make our hearts softer, warmer places where the Christ child will be welcomed in. Darkness is named and faced and we prepare for light.

This isn’t meant as luxurious indulgence. Instead, it can be seen as gathering and sharing gifts and equipping the church. I think about Columba the Celtic monk who founded the community of the Scottish island of Iona. Through his guidance and vision, his abbey became a place of shelter and study where other missionary monks could be equipped for their work. He offered comfort to strengthen others.

May our Christmas tables offer that blessing, too. May our warmth warm the world and our gifts equip the church for the year ahead.

Heap on more wood!


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