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“It was a labor of love,” she told me, coming to my door on a November day and handing me a tissue-wrapped package, wrinkling her nose with a smile.

There’s no doubt that it was. A host of paper leaves, hand-tinted in varying hues. Tiny pictures she knew I’d love, dusted with glitter and hidden behind a month’s worth of of tiny doors. Untold hours of careful work. And the joy we’ve had in it has been measureless–Philip and I have taken turns each day folding back the stiff flaps, revealing the scrap of enchantment within.

I haven’t had an Advent calendar since I was a child, but I will never forget  the tingle of excitement when it was my day to turn back a well-creased paper door or window and peek in at the angel or shepherd or star within, dearly familiar and yet always shimmering with a Christmas magic that made it new again. The waiting seemed endless–the long December days stretched out into impossibility and Christmas Eve was a miracle itself, emerging radiant and triumphant from a month of anticipation.

It comes around more quickly than I’d like to admit now that I’m an adult. But the sweet expectation lingers–is sweeter than ever, perhaps, for I know now what it really means to wait. The beautiful expectancy of Advent throws a reflected light over the waiting days of our own lives. All my desire is before Thee, we whisper. And ranged in the shadows of time that surround us on all sides, a multitude without number sends up an echo that has not been silenced since God’s promise first taught man to hope in His coming. His coming to the human race. His coming to each of us in the intimacy of our immediate need.

The centuries of yearning behind the fulfillment of our Lord’s appearance have myriad small incarnations in the hearts of God’s people. We’re all waiting on something. Waiting for God to fix a problem. Waiting for Him to give us what we want. Waiting to see Him face to face. It’s tempting to let the season underscore what we still don’t have, even though another year has rolled around. But how much richer, I am learning, to embrace the stark solemnity of the great universal waiting for the Messiah and to find a parable of it in my own desires.

God doesn’t give us the big picture all at once. He opens one window at a time, gives us glimpses of the glories under-girding  the everyday.

Like a glitter-dusted angel’s wing or a cross-shaped star behind a paper door.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.