What an excruciating time of waiting these last Advent days before Christmas were as a child! Decorating, church, cookies, Santa’s imminent arrival. They were days of anticipation, days of, well…possibility.
I caught a glimpse of that possibility last evening as my seminary class celebrated the end of our semester in center city Philadelphia. As part of the evening’s festivities, we went to Wannamaker’s (Macys) for “Christmas in the Grand Tradition” narrated by Julie Andrews and all and to hear the largest working pipe organ in the world fill the women’s shoe department with luscious chords.
What was most amazing to me was that late in the evening, around 8 pm, the whole store was filled with strollers, parents, children, babies, many sitting on the floor, waiting for the show to begin, touching the famous brass eagle, hushed in anticipation. I caught the face of one little girl who was just about two years old. She had a look of complete terror on her face as the disembodied voice of Julie Andrews boomed throughout the store and the show began.
Her father looked at me and laughed…”I’ve been coming her since I was her age every Christmas, and I can still remember being scared.” I was curious and I asked “why were you scared?” He thought a bit and responded, “I never figured out that it was the same thing every year, I always went in with the thought that something was going to happen, I don’t know, it’s just like a magic show, you know, the tricks are predictable, but they just never get old.” He continued, “I guess I want my daughter to know that about life.”
Honestly, I don’t really know what the guy was saying, but there was this brilliant poetry and hint of possibility in the frightened but expectant eyes of his daughter, his trying to make sense of it all as a new dad, sifting out his own life to discover what he wants to pass on to his daughter.
And it got me thinking about how as I’ve grown a bit older and potentially more immune to the “magic of Christmas” I need now more than ever to hear the words from the angel to Mary in the gospel of Luke, “with God nothing shall be impossible.”
In that story right at the start of Luke’s gospel, we are plunged into the mystery of the familiar scene, of Mary’s fear at the Angel’s greeting and her wonderment. A calming of fears. Then a promise. Then an openness to the new. Then a blessing. Then a time for living into the promise.
Mary knew the stories of her people well, it was nothing new, really, she shouldn’t have been surprised, just like countless times in the history of her people, a startling appearance, fear, even tears, calmed with the words, “don’t be afraid, God is up to something new!”
Back at Wannamaker’s last night, as the show stared, and the lights flashed and the organ played, some tears began to well up in the little girl’s eyes. Her father took a finger and dried them. He said to her, “honey, it’s ok, don’t be afraid, just watch, something’s going to happen.”
Can’t you sense it? Don’t be afraid! God’s about to do something new.
~ Douglas Barclay