"I can't wait until Christmas!" exclaims my 8 year old several times a day. Then he does a little dance, electric anticipation popping and fizzing about him.
Every time my kids say "I can't wait" there is a certain panicked urgency in their voice, as if they really can't wait, as if waiting might literally make their heads pop off. The anticipation is too much to bear. So much so that the excitement about Christmas has already been eclipsed. Now they are exclaiming that they can't wait until the day after Christmas when we are to head up to our friends' cabin in the snow. The energy expended on waiting for Christmas has been exhausted, supplanted by a new source of jittery anticipation - skiing. They are positively dizzy with expectation, not even sure what they just can't wait for.
I'm wistful for that kind of excitement about Christmas. I remember doing my own little dance, every fiber of my being popping and fizzing in anticipation. Somewhere along the way as we get older the pop and fizz, well, fizzle a little.
We learn a whole lot more about waiting in life, growing in patience or impatience, as it may be. Waiting is often hard and frustrating, sometimes devastating and sometimes just boring. But it usually means being somewhere you wish you weren't. Waiting generates in me an anxious restlessness. My mind darts around trying to find an escape or at least a distraction. I want to hurry up the future or hurry away the present.
The Christmas story is full of waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting a long time for a child, perhaps waiting past hope. Mary had to wait to see the angel's promise come to pass. Joseph, too, waited, enduring scorn and ridicule. The shepherds watched their flocks, not even knowing what they were waiting for. Simeon and Anna waited into old age, patiently looking for a glimpse of God moving. All of Israel waited to be rescued and redeemed.
In the days of Advent leading to Christmas, we wait with them, anticipating Christ's birth and his redemption, waiting for the Promise. As we wait and prepare for our holiday celebrations, we look back to promises fulfilled and look forward to promises still to come. But we need to do this in the context of here and now.
In writing about Advent, Henri Nouwen said, "Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment; in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment." Instead of living a life deferred, we can open our eyes to what's happening right now, something important we don't want to miss. When we "can't wait" for the future, we lose the present.
Sadly, I know the dawning of Christmas day will be tainted with the faintest whiff of disappointment. Not because certain wishes did not come true, but because the actuality can never measure up to the fantastic ideal conjured up in our heads by the intoxicating mix of anticipation and imagination.
Perhaps this inevitable disappointment points to a truth that lives on the edge of our consciousness, something we can just make out with our peripheral vision but slides out of focus when we look at it squarely: the innate knowledge that we are only a small part of a much bigger picture; that our delights here can only hint at something more wonderful than we can imagine; that surely, we were made for something more than this.
I can't wait.
Jennifer Zach lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children. They are members of Bridgeway Community Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.