my parish newsletter column for December
THE WORDSMITH'S FORGE
"Wait patiently for him"
In my family, the tradition was that we opened gifts on Christmas morning. Other families open gifts on Christmas Eve, and there are still other traditions that families have, who have to travel, etc. But for us, it was Christmas morning. Only once did I ever open a gift early.
I was in third or fourth grade, about nine years old, I suppose. The tree was surrounded by gifts of all sizes. Waiting was very difficult. I whined and begged that I could open a present early. Finally, my mother, worn down by my hassling her, said I could open one
present on Christmas Eve. The rest would have to wait until the next morning.
Greedily, I snatched the largest box under the tree and opened it. It was a big plastic warship with removable depth charges. It was on little wheels, so it rolled across our hardwood floors. It was a very cool toy. But it didn't make me happy. In fact, it increased the fretfulness that the long wait to open gifts had produced in me.
You see, immediately upon opening that gift, I realized that I had shrunk the Wow!
I was going to experience the next morning. I would have one gift fewer to open than I was expecting. In my eagerness to have my cake now, I discovered that I couldn't eat it again later. Oh, I could still play with my toy warship -- but I wouldn't have the excitement of opening the package, the joy of discovery. Somehow, I knew that this was a mistake.
And I also realized that scratching the itch didn't make the itch go away. Just because I opened one gift didn't mean that I was relieved of the agony of waiting. People who are tempted to do things they know they shouldn't (which is all of us) always think that just a little bit of whatever it is won't hurt. But it does. And it doesn't relieve the original temptation.
In one of those I-just-grew-up-some revelations, I realized that I had done a foolish thing. It would have been better to wait. However hard it is to wait for some things, jumping the gun rarely works out. Better to wait, and comfort oneself with the fact that the waiting will
end -- and if we are faithful in our waiting, our joy in the arrival of what we await will be that much greater.
That's a heavy thought for a nine-year-old to have. But I know many folks, much older, who haven't figured it out yet. Anyway, I never again opened a gift early; which is not to say that I haven't snatched at other things when they were unripe, but whenever I have, it has only reinforced this lesson.
God brings all things to fulfillment in our lives. He brings the whole of creation to fulfillment. In the fullness of time
he sent Jesus into the world to be born. And waiting is no easier now than then. But he promises that the wait will be worth it. On that promise hangs all our hope.