Yesterday, I sat in the left turn lane at a traffic light near my church for a full 15 minutes, and I seethed with impatience. The lights were all out of sequence. Apparently an emergency vehicle had gone through the intersection before I had gotten there, and the lights at this crossroads are notorious for being unable to reset.
The first time we got passed over, I assumed I had just missed the left turn arrow. But then, the people heading east all got skipped, and a car up at the front of my line decided to turn on a red in the face of pretty heavy traffic coming right at us. After we had gotten skipped three times, an ambulance came roaring through the intersection, lights blazing, and resetting the sequence yet again.
I jiggled my leg impatiently, and lost all faith in the person who had programmed these signals. I tapped the steering wheel with a frustrated cadence. On the radio, Paul McCartney’s synth-heavy “Wonderful Christmastime” echoed maniacally in the background for the third time in 24 hours, and I began to feel like a caged animal. No, Sir-Paul-beneath-the-once-hip-mullet, I was NOT simply having a wonderful Christmastime. I was in traffic hell in a frigid November morning, watching some of my compatriots tempt mayhem ahead of me by taking the turn into their own hands despite speeding traffic swarming all around us. I was more in a Tom Petty frame of mind, because the waiting really WAS the hardest part.
Finally, just as I was looking to see if I could safely change lanes, we got the arrow, and those of us who were left surged through the turn with our engines racing. I finally got to the church parking lot and hurried inside without my coat, muttering, because I had an appointment already waiting for me.
The irony of the fact that I spent a good part of yesterday submerged in Advent liturgy was not lost on me. It’s only a few days after Thanksgiving, but the Christmas season has descended upon us with a throb and clash of activity. Yet we Episcopalians stubbornly push back against the headlong leap into Christmas for another full month, observing instead the subtle discipline of waiting, of anticipation and patience in the face of instant gratification. Faith, hope, joy, and peace were a whole lot easier for me when I wasn’t idled against my will in traffic.
In the evening as I made my way home through the crush of traffic again, this time aware of the intense need in my spirit to cultivate a sense of anticipation versus impatience, a spirit of expectation and longing rather than frantic acquisition of consumption, a mindful reset of attitude to more fully inhabit the present as a blessing. The winter soil of the heart needs rest and preparation. Only then can we lean toward love, in eager hope of the fulfillment of promises of peace and joy, in the fullness of time. Perhaps once we officially begin observing Advent, it will be easier to maintain the sense of equanimity and contemplation in the face of the breakneck pace of the consumerized frenzy of Christmas shopping and decorating.
Advent instead calls us to take a deep breath and slow down, to make room in our hearts for an invitation to wakefulness as we tune our ear to the glad announcement of angels, the bold assent of a teenaged peasant girl, and in the slow settling of starlight across the crown of wisdom and completion set upon a newborn’s head. The waiting itself is a gift.