Patience before the Feast

  • Posted on Dec 13, 2011

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. Jeremiah 31:12-13

Erv preached on Sunday about patience. About this time of year, as the cultural Christmas season is in full swing, we all become a bit weary of all the insistent over-preparation….have we bought our beloved a new luxury car yet?…..and are ready for the Christmas feasting to begin…and then a good nap to be had. Some of us just want the whole crazy celebration to be over, stop the traveling and enjoy those quiet days between Christmas Day and New Year’s at home. Perhaps to settle by the fire with a good book for the quieter souls among us; to dance and sing and relax together for those who like a bit more activity without all the Christmas fuss. 

There is a story told by Thomas Merton about an elderly monk at the Monastery at Gethsemane, Kentucky where Merton spent many years of his professed life. This elderly monk loved to garden above all else. He liked nothing better than to putter around the garden all day in all kinds of weather—digging a hole there, pulling weeds, organizing his tools in the shed on rainy days. For a long time, the abbot of the monastery decided that this love of gardening needed some pruning in the life of this elderly monk….and he forbade him from gardening—just on monastic (and maybe puritan) principle. Finally the abbot died and the new abbot decided that this elderly monk was not going to do anything EXCEPT GARDEN. So, as Merton tells it, the monk “just gardened from morning to night. He never came to Office, never came to anything, he just dug in his garden. He put his whole life into this.” (Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton, p.29) When I read about this Gardener of Gethsemane, I rejoiced with him in his gardening life at long last, but I also wondered how he had the patience to wait out the old abbot’s non-gardening decree and trust that God would see fit to have him garden once more. And I also wondered: did he ever tire of continual gardening in the days to come?

Sometimes we all just want to do what WE want to do. One of my favorite parts of Christmastide is arriving at Christmas Day afternoon when I get in my pajamas, sit on the coach and watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I don’t move for hours. After the movie, I read and read and read. Nap. Watch a football game. Eat a bit. Then go to sleep (and no need to change clothes!)It is great! But I have also learned to love to wait for that moment and to delight in all (well, maybe most) of the activities that come before that. I love the Christmas eve services. I love preparing my sermon for the late service and the pastoral visiting of the week leading up to Christmas. I love that moment when I come home from Christmas Eve, prepare the Christmas stockings and watch the Pope celebrate Mass in Rome. And I even enjoy the trip to the MALL for that last minute gift that we always end up needing. 

I don’t think I would love these few days of Christmas at home if I didn’t have the patience to wait for those days and do the work I’m called to do. If I weren’t present for the days of Advent, would Christmas be a real celebration or just another tiring-thing-to-do-and-put-behind-us? And I wonder, did the elderly monk one day just get a little tired of gardening and long to be in the kitchen peeling potatoes with a few of his brother monks or in the sacristy preparing for Eucharist? 

Like the Gardener of Gethsemane’s abbot, I believe we all need some structure to keep us from revving up the celebration engines too high, too soon. We need the season of Advent, just as humans need the practice of Sabbath. In order to enjoy the things we love, we need the patience to wait and watch and prepare. We need to take a break from gardening, in order to love the garden. We need to take a break from the feast in order to love the feast. 

So take a break from the cultural Christmas frenzy—and try not to celebrate too much, too soon. Enjoy the quiet days of waiting for the celebration. Then rejoice and sing as you are called—including wearing your pajamas all day if you like!

Join us at Memorial Church as we green the church this coming Sunday after the 10:30 service. A way to slowly begin to see the Feast of the Incarnation take shape.

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