Advent is time of waiting and expectation. All of us who attend liturgical churches know that and all of us know how much a challenge that waiting is amid the craziness of the Christmas season these days. For me, the weeks leading up to Advent and Advent itself involve marking, lesson preparation and the standard running-around which life as a teacher entails. By the time Advent comes around, I'm usually worn to a frazzle and trying to squeeze out the last reserves just to get done what I need to get done before the Christmas holidays really begin.
I don't think this overwhelmed feeling is uncommon at all. All of us are busy this time of year and Christmas preparations and socializing just add to that load. It is hard to find time to wait quietly and to reflect on the coming of Jesus, both on that night more than two thousand years ago and in the coming age (whenever that is). That is the dilemma that I found myself in this year...again.
As Advent started this year, I found myself catching up marking from a busy November, taking on an additional task at school (which I should never have taken on--when will I learn!) and I was getting very cranky. Two or three days into Advent, I was muttering under my breath that I didn't feel like I would get any Advent this year. That woke me up. Something was very wrong with my attitude and with me, if I was feeling that way so early in Advent.
That was when a thought came to my head: why not just leave work at work, do what I can and take Advent back for myself? Sounds simple doesn't it? Simple and, frankly, a little scary, given how behind I was feeling. How was I supposed to get work done and have Advent? Won't I just fall further behind and get more stressed, instead of relieving my stress by getting the work out of the way, even if it meant flogging myself to get things done? Given the way that my brain works, that actually made sense to me and made the decision that I was making seem a little crazy. I still made it, but with some trepidation.
So, what happened? I'd love to say that I was perfect in my resolution and didn't bring work home (I did a couple nights towards the end of the period, but only less than an hour's worth of work each night). I'd love to say that I had spiritual epiphanies each night (many nights I fell asleep reading or watching TV). I'd love to say that I had a fresh understanding of Christ child and the incarnation (see the previous parenthesis).
What did happen is that, instead of my stress increasing, I found it dropping and my productivity at school so much greater because I knew the work needed to get done there. I found I could take the time out to pray and to reflect (at least, before I fell asleep) on what Christ has meant to my life. I found I had time for my wife and son which was wonderful. I found I could be grateful for the good things in my life and to have compassion for others around me in a way I don't think I could have without that time. All those things are precious gifts and slowing down for Advent was what enabled me to receive them peacefully.
So, as Advent winds to a close, I'm still trying to keep a peaceful Advent. I still have some school work I want to get done. I still have many other tasks clamouring for my attention, but I still want to take the time out to wait for the coming of the Lord. There is always more things to do and there are more and better ways to keep Advent than the simple action I took this year. Still, I hope this is a start to a deepening of my Advent experiences. With God's help, I hope that the Advent season will be a time for us to prepare ourselves to meet Christ again; in prayer, in those we help and in those around us.