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Anticipation


With Christmas reminders all around us now (and they began to appear even before Halloween), my thoughts have been returning to memories of earlier times in my life. Childhood is filled with memories of Christmases past and the anticipation of the arrival of Christmas Day. For me, part and parcel of that anticipation always involved waiting. A lot of it.

I remember hearing my Nannie Summers comment that time flew faster and faster as one got older. I never understood that as a child. It seemed to me that Christmas would never arrive. Now that I’ve reached the Social Security-and-Medicare age, however, my opinion has changed. Nannie’s wisdom about time was amazing. It seems that we just got the tinsel and pine needles and shreds of wrapping paper from last year cleaned up when, lo and behold, Christmas is upon us again!

We had a Christmas tradition in our family when I was a kid. On Christmas Eve, my Mammaw and Pappaw Peterson (and, until she went away to college, my Aunt Mildred) came for supper, and we exchanged gifts with them. I anticipated that event perhaps almost as much as I did our traditions on Christmas morning. But that Eve tradition proved the truth that the degree of anticipation will match or exceed the time of waiting required beforehand.

As Mother put the finishing touches on the huge feast she was preparing for the meal, I would force my way behind the Christmas tree to stare out the large picture window in our living room across the cow pasture, through the pitch darkness, toward my grandparents’ house. I had come to know their routine. First, I would see their garage light go on. Then the waiting seemed to become interminable. What was taking them so long?! I told myself that it was because they had a lot of presents to put into their car.


I would slip from behind the tree and snitch a piece of homemade fudge from one of several dishes of the sweet stuff that Mother had placed strategically around the room for our guests. Over the eternity of waiting ahead of me, I would eat several pieces of that dark, soft, creamy candy, always taking each piece from a different dish so that Mother wouldn’t know. (She always did. “Dennis, don’t you be eating any of that fudge! That’s for Mammaw and Pappaw.” How did she know when she couldn’t even see me from the kitchen?!)

Then I would return to my post at the window behind the Christmas tree. And eventually, after much more waiting, I would see two red glows pierce the darkness. They were the brake lights on my grandparents’ blue-and-white Chevy. Then came more waiting. Finally, the car would edge slowly from the garage and turn down the driveway toward the road. At the end of the driveway, it turned right, toward our house. And then Pappaw seemed to be driving on thin ice. Can’t he drive any faster?! Why is he going so slowly?! Time seemed to stand still as I watched the car creep the two-tenths of a mile or so to our driveway and then turn into it. And Pappaw seemed to be making a conscious effort not to displace a single stone in the driveway by going too fast.

The headlights disappeared around the end of the house, and there was more waiting. How long does it take three people to exit a car and walk twenty feet to the back door? Finally, they were there, standing in the kitchen, their arms loaded with presents.

But the waiting continued. Conversation in the living room until the ladies called that supper was ready. Supper and more waiting. Why does it take so long for adults to eat? Do they really chew each bite forty times before swallowing? Can’t they eat and talk at the same time?

The main meal finally ended, but there was still coffee and dessert, and more waiting while the adults talked. Then came the pilgrimage back into the living room, where the men talked until the women finished cleaning up the supper dishes. Then the women joined the conversation. And we kids waited and waited and waited, our anticipation building by the minute.

Finally, we were allowed to open our gifts and watch Mammaw, Pappaw, and Mildred open theirs. Then it was all over, and they left. Looking back, it had all gone by so quickly! But there was still more anticipation, and waiting, because the next day was Christmas and more presents!

One year, our anticipation got the best of us, and that ruined Christmas for us that year. We kids were so excited from all the gift-opening on Christmas Eve that we cajoled and prodded Mother and Daddy to let us each open “just one” of the gifts remaining under the tree, the gifts that were always reserved only for Christmas morning. We thinly disguised our own covetousness by pleading that we wanted our parents to open a gift that we had gotten them. Finally, and with much foreboding and many dire warnings, Mother relented, and we each opened a gift. And we felt so good about it. So good, in fact, that we pressured them to let us open “just one more.” Mother’s opposition was far greater this time, but we finally won out, and we each opened one more gift. And we felt so good!

Before we knew it, we had opened all the gifts. And we had nothing to open on Christmas morning. The only thing under the Christmas tree was a jumble of boxes and gifts from the previous night, a lot of crumpled wrapping paper, and fallen pine needles. I looked at Mother, sitting there on the piano bench, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I tried to tell you,” she said softly before getting up and walking into the kitchen. We had been too impatient to wait just a few hours more, and now we had ruined Christmas for the entire family.

Isn’t that often how our lives seem to turn out? We are just in too much of a hurry to enjoy the waiting. It’s even greater now that we’ve gotten so used to “instant” everything. We’re not content to wait. We must have it (whatever “it” is) NOW. And we want same-day delivery. Sooner if we can get it. But it’s often the waiting that increases our anticipation, which creates the joy when the time finally arrives.

God promised a Messiah. Some people didn’t believe Him. Others believed but expected a messiah far different than the One He intended; they expected a political messiah whereas He was giving a spiritual Messiah. And still others got tired of waiting. But there was old Simeon, whom God had promised would see the Messiah before he died. And he waited his whole life before that promise was fulfilled.


It was “in the fullness of time,” God’s time, that the Messiah came, just as God had promised. And God has promised that He would come again one day. We don’t know when, but the time surely is getting closer with each passing day and year. The administrator at the first school I taught in had a plaque on his desk that reminded him and every visitor to his office, “Maybe today!”

Are we ready, anticipating His return? If not, there’s still time. But one day, the waiting will be over. Are you ready and watching at the window for His arrival?

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