Right about now, “How ya’ doin’?” becomes “You ready for Christmas?” and my voice catches in my throat because, let’s be honest, I never am.
The Christmas letter that has come to be expected could be written, reproduced and mailed. (It has been.) The tree could be decorated within an inch of its artificial life. (It is.) The gifts could all be bought (not quite) and wrapped with tasteful paper and wired ribbon. (I can only hope.) The refrigerator and pantry could be filled to brimming with multiple units of cream cheese and condensed milk and pecans, cracked and shelled by the hands of loving parents — praise the Lord — and I still would not be ready.
“Ready” means preparedness and wholeness and availability. “Ready” implies fitness and qualification, like an Army Ranger or a Navy SEAL. “Ready” infers that I am somehow worthy to enter this holiest of seasons. No amount of wired ribbon or condensed milk, no number of empty stocking contributions, no measure of time spent reading Guidepost devotions can do that. I will ever stand at the edge of the stable wondering when one of the wise men is going to turn suddenly from his adoration of the baby and point me out as a fraud.
This is what I am thinking when some unsuspecting soul smiles at me in the Walmart check-out lane and asks, “You ready for Christmas?”
A few days ago, in the corner of a quiet coffee shop at a table whose wooden top was scratched and watermarked, a friend and I bent our heads together in voices just above a whisper to talk about that, to confess what it feels like to not be ready for Christmas.
“The season got here so quickly,” she said. “Thanksgiving was hardly over before the first Sunday in Advent appeared.”
It has nothing to do with shopping or cooking or decorating, we agreed, but everything to do with stilling one’s brain and filtering out the noise long enough to consider what it is we are supposed to be celebrating.
That is the difficulty. The stilling, the quieting, the letting go of the ill-considered notion that what I do, accomplish, carry out has some impact upon the coming of Christmas, the coming of the Christ child into the world, the coming of the Christ into me.
I have been watching the moon these last few nights, watching it swell into a consummate curve, like a pregnant belly nine-months stretched. I have watched it, wondering with each rise over the edge of the darkening landscape, when it will be the perfect circle. It is a slow process, this coming of the full moon. It will not be hurried. It will not be slowed. It does not respond to my longing, my urging, my pressing.
I think of my friends whose first baby, a girl, is due to arrive any day now. They’d been told by the people who are supposed to know such things that she would be here before Christmas. Those people had even suggested that they could make her come on a specific day, but consultation with baby Ella set them straight. She, too, will not be hurried, nor will she be slowed. She is not withholding her arrival while her family gets ready. She knows that ready is what her family will become at the very moment they see her face, hear her cry, grasp her hand.
That is the answer. Ready is not something we make ourselves. Ready is something we become by virtue of that for which we long.
The moon will wax full; the baby will be born; Christmas will come.