It’s nearly the third Sunday of Advent, the season in my faith that marks time and awaits the coming of Christmas. Today is Saturday, full of chores and unfinished work, of tasks that vary from the return of overdue library books to clearing the room of our returning college student.
Advent is a season of the predictable but of the unpredictable, too. It’s predictable to be hiking to the shed in the bitter cold to find the misplaced tree stand; it might even be predictable during the search to find oneself humming ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ But surely it’s unpredictable, just a little, to find oneself leaking tears and getting choked up about the ox and lamb? After all, in that story, they just “kept time.”
This must be the beauty and mystical blend of what is both holy and practical. We too ‘keep time,’ not in the sense of preserving it, lengthening it or changing it, no: most days we keep time by simply doing the next thing in front of us. We wake to work, work to make a difference, sleep to rest; we rejoice, we mourn. We hear the strain of the music and call beyond us, bigger than we are. We take tiny steps toward what we hope is our aim: the love, and the light.
I weep for my friends, and the wider world, who are keeping time in hardship. I weep at the seeming distance of my 21st century life from the intimacy there in the stable long ago. And in the next moment, clutching the found tree stand, old ornaments, and crèche figures from many years ago, two other time-keeping women leap to mind: Mary and Martha. I know which I resemble now in my haste and manufactured but also real busyness. And I recognize the need to also be like the other as well.
Martha, Mary, the ox and the lamb: all part of a world changing drama that unfolded itself in poverty and humility and hidden-ness. How is it that 2000 years later an anonymous small drummer boy, created in the imagination of song-writers, sung about by millions, dismissed as schmaltz by hundreds, can drill into hearts? Perhaps it is not him, nor his drum, nor the tune itself, nor even the animals described. Perhaps it is the very connection he made, that he finds, with the small child come to bring and to be the Light of the World.