The culture of Advent and Christmas in my most formative years was a training ground for the practice of longing. Every aspect of every corner of life as a child in the 1960's was tuned in this season to raise the pitch of expectation. School, church, home, Main Street stores, it was all pivoting around what was coming and in large part that meant gifts. Not wealthy and so not lavish still my family was unfailingly responsive to this message and we waited for some combination of what would be fun, useful, or beautiful. A flurry of bows and paper and new things to own. Every preacher has at some point hauled out their sermon on the awful character of this kind of commercialism and the confusion of the 'reason for the season' and I suppose I likely did as well. Now I say 'dive into it'. Go to town. Gift away.
Here's what I saw happening. The skill of longing, of understanding that something beautiful was coming, migrated. By even the teen years it was a combination of the vestigial excitement for possible gifts and some awareness of sacredness that was still forming. By adulthood it was a giddiness about the prospect of uncluttered time with family (natural or chosen) and a quiet midnight pause to sing and gaze at the night sky. Approaching older adulthood if I am paying attention it will one day be not a seasonal but a pervasive practice of waiting expectantly, sometimes wondering and sometimes aching, for days of beauty, justice and peace. Fifty years ago some emotional capacity for delighted expectation was formed and nourished. Now it may be what I most need. Jesus is still always being born in us. Again today I can hardly wait.