Mark D. Roberts

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On Saturday evening I attended a Christmas parade in my new hometown of Boerne, Texas. Actually, it was a Weihnachts Parade. The German word for Christmas is Weihnachten (literally, “holy nights”). Boerne, which is pronounced like “journey,” (in German, Börne, named after the 19th-century German writer, Ludwig Börne) has strong German roots, which are celebrated at Christmas and other times of the year. (The Boerne Village Band, a German, oompah-type band, was founded in 1860 and continues to this day, playing all over Texas.)
boerne xmas weihnachts paradeThe parade was well attended, not only by residents of Boerne, but also by folks from throughout the area. Thus the crowds were ample. When I stopped in a local mini-mart to pick up a drink, the line must have been twenty people long, and was moving rather slowly. As I waited in that line, feeling anxious for fear I’d miss the start of the parade, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite blog posts: “My Greatest Advent Discovery.” It’s time to roll out that post again, since we’ve just entered the season of Advent. (Photo: A few minutes betore the parade begins)
I have a confession to make: I am terrible at waiting. This makes me an especially lousy Christmas shopper, because, almost by definition, Christmas shopping requires waiting in line. Whether you’re at a fine department store or just grabbing some chips from the local mini-mart, chances are you’ll be waiting in line during the month of December. And, if you’re like me, inevitably you’ll end up right behind somebody who needs a price check on aisle 3 or who requires some sort of special assistance. This sort of thing can just about ruin the Christmas season for me, because waiting makes me grumpy.
boerne christmas weihnachts parade nathanA few years ago I was waiting in a long line at Costco. In spite of my best efforts to find the shortest line, of course I ended up in the slowest moving line of all. As I stood there, I could feel my blood pressure rising. The more I waited, the more frustrated I became. Words I never say (well, almost never) filled my mind, and I’m not referring to “Happy Holidays.” “Why do I always get in the slowest line?” I asked myself. “And why is this taking so long?” I grumbled under my breath. (Photo: my son and my wife enjoying a parade float)
Then, all of a sudden, it dawned on me. I had one of those moments of grace, in which God managed to slip a word into my consciousness. As I stood in line at Costco, I was waiting. Waiting! I was doing exactly what Advent is all about. Of course I wasn’t waiting for God to save me or anything momentous like that. I was simply waiting to get out of that store so I could go home. But, nevertheless, I was waiting. I was forced to experience something that’s at the very heart of Advent.
So I decided, right then and there in the line at Costco, that I was going to use the experience of waiting in line as an Advent reminder. In that moment, and in similar moments yet to come, I was going to remember what Advent is all about. I was going to put myself back into the shoes of the Jews who were waiting for the Messiah. And I was going to remember that I too am waiting for Christ to return.
As I decided to let the experience of forced waiting be a moment of Advent reflection rather than a cause for getting an ulcer, I found my anger quickly drain away. Waiting in line at Costco became, not a trial to be endured, but a moment of grace. And get this: I even found myself thanking God for the chance to slow down a bit and wait. This was, indeed, a miracle.
By the time I got to check out, my heart was peaceful, even joyous. I felt as if I had discovered a treasure. The next Sunday I shared my discovery with my congregation at Irvine Presbyterian Church. In the days that followed, many of my flock told me how much their Advent had been improved by thinking of waiting in line, not as a curse, but as a potential blessing.
Honestly, I can still forget my commitment to use waiting in line as a time for Advent reflection. My gut instinct can take over. I can easily start grinding my teeth as I think of how much time I’m losing. But then a gentle breeze from the Spirit will remind me of how waiting can enrich my life, rather than rob me of joy.
In the last few years, what I hate most about the days prior to Christmas – waiting in line – has become a quasi-sacrament, a time to experience God’s grace. If you’ve never tried this, it may sound to you as if I’ve lost my mind. This sounds even sillier than wearing purple in the weeks before Christmas rather than red and green. But let me encourage you to try it. By experiencing waiting in line not as a punishment but as a opportunity to wait peacefully, you’ll find a bit of grace, hidden and ready to be discovered, much like a little picture behind one of those doors of an Advent calendar.

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