Pam and I have spent the past five days with our grandchildren. At seven and three, they can wear you out with their requests. They wake up wanting. They wish fervently for things and dream of happiness in the ultimate. “Papa,” my grandson will say, “if you could have any plane in the world [he’s clearly into planes], what would it be?” I stumble to reply, but not he: “The Ford Trimotor!”
The day we set aside to make and decorate gingerbread houses, at 6:30 a.m. our granddaughter is trembling and jumping in anticipation.
That childish delight is like a drug for older people. We get a vicarious, endorphinous rush. It’s one reason so many adults live through children at Christmas or re-live their own childhood. Anything to get the feeling back.
That’s not all bad. Children can remind us how to want something with all our hearts.
And that wholehearted longing is the essence of Advent. “Come, thou long expected Jesus.” If Christmas is about joy, Advent is about yearning. Imagine that child asking you, “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” Like me, you may stumble at that. Advent offers a period of profound reflection, long enough to get beyond the surface wants and needs that monopolize our daily attention, down into the deepest longings of the human heart. The desire for wholeness, to be fully known, the need to love and be loved, to have a purpose in life, to matter to at least one other soul. The longing to be freed from our fears and anxieties, to be able give our lives for something eternal before we die. This is where Advent takes us.
Deep reflection invariably brings us to hopes too big for our little souls. Then, all we can do is cry out, like the voices of all those Advent hymns and Psalms and ancient stories, for God to come and make us whole, make us right. If you are lucky enough to be in the presence of a little child this year, she can teach you how to want something with all your heart. Just watch.