Nov. 28, 2011 – When Christmas Goes To The Ducks

He was feeding ducks. It caught my attention because, well, who has time to feed ducks? I was rushing from one thing to the next on a busy morning, and I saw him as I slowed down long enough to pull into a drive-through window for a cup of coffee. With the kind of morning I was having I needed a little caffeine boost. The ducks apparently lived in the small pond behind the shopping center where the fast food joint was located. Whether it was planned or just a spontaneous act on his part I cannot say, but some guy had gotten out of his car and walked over to the water’s edge. The ducks were gathered around him, shaking their tail feathers in delight as he shared whatever was in that bag he was holding. It was hard to tell who was having more fun ? the man or his feathered friends.

These days I hardly have time to feed my dog, let alone a group of random ducks who live in a drainage pond behind a shopping center! You will have noticed that this is the first blog entry I have made in almost three months ? a testimony to how busy I tend to stay. Some of it is just the particulars of the season of life I am in right now. Thanks be to God, we finally sold our house in SC and bought one here in Tampa, but that means there have been a lot of details to cover: traveling, packing, moving, unpacking (I still haven’t found the rest of my socks), to say nothing of the mountain of paperwork necessary to secure a mortgage. Then there was Thanksgiving and the traveling to Grandma’s. And now there is Christmas for which to prepare ? a busy time in the life of any church, to say the least.

But part of it is just my nature. Task master that I am, I am always ready to move on to the next “accomplishment.” The success and satisfaction of my day is usually judged by how many check marks appear on the to-do list that formed in my mind before I got out of the shower that morning. Got my daughters delivered to school and shaved three minutes off the round-trip time from yesterday: check. Finished a budget worksheet before tomorrow’s committee meeting: check. Met with the worship pastor to discuss Sunday’s worship service: check. Made two hospital visits on the way home from the office: check. Ordered new satellite TV service for the house: check. It was a good day!

Or was it? Our culture tends to value busyness. (Note the strange similarity with the word “business!”) He who can brag of the busiest schedule wins, right? But just because I am busy doing lots of stuff does not necessarily mean that I am busy doing stuff that really matters. My busyness could just be a distraction from the weightier things of life. The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once asked why we should assume that getting ten minutes of time from a busy person is more valuable than getting ten minutes from someone who is not so busy. What if the less-busy person is more tuned in to the important things? All I know is that the guy feeding the ducks sure looked to be having a better morning than I was.

Having said all that, I don’t have any illusions about suddenly becoming “unbusy.” It is part of the season of life I am in these days. I am still a father, a husband, and a pastor, with all the accompanying demands those roles place on my time. And I wouldn’t trade any of those roles for anything, because they are enormously rewarding. Busyness in and of itself is not the problem. The problem is the attitude of distraction that I allow to build up around it. The problem comes when I am so focused on the next thing on my to-do list that I forget to pay attention to what God is doing in the present moment.

As of this past Sunday the Christian church has entered into the season of Advent. Advent has a long and complex history of development down throughout the centuries of liturgical history, but it can be summarized this way: Advent is about waiting expectantly on God to come. Expectantly ? that’s the key word here. There are lots of ways to wait on something. Waiting on the light to turn green is very different than, say, waiting on a child to be born, and not just because one takes longer than the other. The difference has to do with our attitude . Waiting on a light to turn green is generally viewed as just wasted time. A few more precious minutes tick away with nothing to show for it.

By comparison, waiting on a child to be born is anything but wasted time. Even the most impatient among us can trust that something good is happening, even if we cannot see it. Tucked away in the mystery of the womb God is doing something utterly amazing, so we wait expectantly because we implicitly trust that the waiting is leading to something good and glorious. And every little thing that happens ? every twitch and itch, yes, even every painful contraction is a sign to us that a desirable outcome awaits.

Granted, most people reading these words are probably not pregnant, but it is no coincidence that Advent has a lot to do with a woman who once was. When Jesus made his entry into this world as a tiny baby, it was in fulfillment of a promise God had made hundreds of years earlier ? a promise that he would come and save his people. No one was sure exactly how that promise would come to pass, and those who thought they had figured it out were proven wrong. All the people could do was wait. No amount of busyness on their part could do anything to rush up God’s time line. He would come when he would come, not a moment sooner. The fullness of time ? that’s how the New Testament describes it. God came in the fullness of His time.

And when he did those who were open and expectant enough got to see it firsthand! While the rest of the world hurried on about their business (or was it busyness?) Mary and Joseph and some shepherds and an old prophet named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna and other such folk got to see God in the flesh. Not because they were smarter or more sophisticated or more important than anyone else, but because they were not so busy with life that they missed what God was doing.

Of course, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was a one-time event that God has no plans to repeat. That is why Advent points beyond the first coming of Christ to the second. Those of us who live in the time after the incarnation are also called to wait expectantly for Christ to come again, this time not as a tiny baby, but as the triumphant Lord of the universe. How shall we wait? With our days full of distraction and frustration? Or with an attitude of expectancy, trusting that every itch and twitch, and, yes, even every pain, is pointing us to a desirable outcome?

Maybe we would do well to share part of our Christmas with ducks.

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