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Sharing My Greatest Advent Discovery

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Part 5 of series: Introduction to Advent
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Earlier in this series I spoke of discovering Advent. Of course I didn’t discover it in the way an explorer discovers a place no one has been before. Millions upon millions of Christians have observed Advent for centuries upon centuries. (Check this short history of Advent.) I’ve been a Johnny-come-lately. My discovery of Advent was more like when I find some fantastic natural oasis that’s been around for a long time, but, for some reason, I hadn’t ever visited.

What I want to write about today isn’t my discovery of Advent as an opportunity for growing in my relationship with God, but rather my accidental (providential?) discovery of one way to observe Advent that has made a huge different in my life.

It came in a most unlikely place . . . standing in line at Costco. Now you need to understand that I am terrible at waiting, especially in long checkout lines. Some time ago, I was rushing to get a couple of items at the market. I picked a short “Ten items or less” line, hoping to buy my stuff and get going. Of course, the person in front of me wanted to use a gift card, but the gift card couldn’t be read electronically. The checker knew there was a way to enter the gift card number manually, but he wasn’t sure how to do it. So he had to call his manager. Five minutes later, I was still standing in that “short” line, watching other lines moving swiftly. My teeth were grinding and my stomach was churning. Mostly, I was mad at myself to picking the wrong line.

My impatience with slow checkout lines 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 in the slowest line in the store. This sort of thing can just about ruin the Christmas season for me, because waiting makes me grumpy.

Okay, enough with the confession, now to the discovery.

A few years ago I was waiting in a long line at the Costco in Irvine, California. 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: Waiting in line at Costco)

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 that slow-moving line at Costco, I was waiting. Waiting! In a way, I was experiencing 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 while Christmas shopping 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 hiddent treasure. But I didn’t want to keep it hidden. 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 clenching my fists 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.

Come to think of it, the grace of waiting in line during Advent might also be relevant to one of my other giant pet peeves: heavy traffic! Traffic is often worse during the season of Advent as people are rushing to the malls to shop for gifts. But I wonder if it’s possible to allow the hassle of traffic to serve as a reminder of Advent waiting.

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.

Topics: Advent |

5 Responses to “Sharing My Greatest Advent Discovery”

  1. Mariam Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Thank you! I will try it.

  2. Kevin Womack Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Thanks Mark! I started doing this as an Advent discipline a couple years ago when I read about it on your blog. It’s been so helpful for me and I’ve also passed it on to my congregation! Thanks!

  3. Mark Roberts Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Mariam and Kevin: Thanks for your comments!

  4. Ricki Slone Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Wow, I wish I had read this before I left the house today. I had to wait in line at Target today (only 3 checkers open - can you believe that at this time of year!). Well, I got angry (on the inside). I did take your idea from yesterday and wore purple today. You would have thought I would have been more aware of the Advent season of waiting! My prayer is that I will be drawn closer to my LORD each day of Advent. Thank you for sharing your waiting story. I will remember it starting now. I am just a lay person and I really enjoy your devotionals. May God continue to use you for His Glory!

  5. debt Says:
    December 4th, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Two years ago I read a suggestion that because Advent is the season of waiting, we should pray whenever we find ourselves waiting. I have found this very powerful. When I am waiting for a bus, for water to boil, instead of letting my mind wander, I [try to remember to] pray. In public places I’ll often pick a nearby stranger and pray for that person’s needs and concerns whatever they may be. If I don’t have any other prayer topics in mind, I say prayers of thanksgiving.


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