By Mike Ruffin
It was late on Christmas Day. The sun had set and my parents and I were somewhere between Yatesville and Barnesville on our way back home after the day-long celebration of Christ’s birth through the eating of food and the exchanging of gifts.
Into the quietness of the moment broke my father’s voice: “Well, that’s that for another 365 days!” And my ten-year-old heart sank. How on earth and under heaven could I wait 365 days for the next Christmas to arrive?
At that age the phrase “as slow as Christmas” was still packed with meaning for me. The period from one Christmas to the next seemed to stretch on for a decade.
The closer Christmas got, the slower time seemed to move. During the last few days, the second hand on my Timex watch appeared to tick once every ten seconds.
“Hurry Christmas, hurry fast,” the Chipmunks sang, but it never did; “Christmas, don’t be late,” they also sang, but it always was.
I confess that to my child’s mind it was the Santa Claus aspect of Christmas — an aspect that is filled with its own special brand of wonder mixed with anxiety — that made time move so slowly for me. Looking back, though, I realize that there was a great benefit to the mysterious, if imaginary, slowing down of time in the days leading up to Christmas: it created space in which I could experience the real mystery and wonder of the season. In that space I could and did marvel over what God had done in Christ.
Another reason that time seemed to slow to a crawl for me back then was that, once school let out for the holidays, I had nothing to do until Christmas Day arrived. That has changed, too; I have not had “nothing to do” since 1975.
That’s not all that has changed. Now the phrase “as slow as Christmas” mocks me and my lifestyle. Now 365 days go by as if they are 36.5 days. It seems as if we celebrated Christmas just a few months ago. Whereas pre-Christmas time slowed down of its own accord during my childhood, now I have to take intentional steps to create space in which I can experience the mystery and wonder of the great act of love and grace that was carried out by Almighty God in the birth of Jesus Christ.
That’s why I am so grateful that somewhere along the way I became aware of the Christian practice of observing the Season of Advent; it gives some structure and meaning to this time of waiting for the coming of Christ at Christmas. It also provides some incentive and some reminders for me to take a bit of time out during these days to think about and to pray over the great love of God — a love that we can never fathom but can grow to appreciate more and more, and to live in light of more and more.
Time did not really slow down when I was a child; it just seemed like it. We cannot really slow time down now. We can, however, set some time aside to read about, to reflect upon, and to marvel at the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
It would be a good thing, too, if the practice of slowing down and being present with the God who loves us enough to come to us would carry over into the rest of our year and into the rest of our lives.
Mike Ruffin is a Barnesville native who lives and works in Macon. His new book, Praying with Matthew, is available at helwys.com and at Amazon.