WHEN I WAS TWELVE-YEARS-OLD I only wanted one thing for Christmas. Several of my friends already had one and I wanted one too. It was a calculator, but not just any calculator. I wanted a calculator from Texas Instruments.
Now-a-days, calculators are small and compact; many are about the size and weight of a business card. Not when I was twelve though – then, the bigger the better – with diesel engines (no, not really), but they were big. And I wanted a big one.
Our usual practice, when I was a kid, was to open our gifts on Christmas morning. That Christmas my sister and I talked my folks into letting us open “just one” gift on Christmas Eve. My sister opened a sweater, a silly old sweater vest. But, I saw a wrapped box, just the right size for a Texas Instruments calculator. I opened it and it was the exact calculator I wanted. I was so happy. I searched the house for the ten or twenty batteries it needed and fired the thing up…
It had, what seemed like hundreds of buttons, or I should say keys. There were ones I knew – like Number keys; Plus, Minus, Multiplication and Division keys; I knew the Percentage and Square Root keys too. But after that I was kind of lost. There were keys I didn’t know, ones that didn’t seem relevant on Christmas Eve: there was a Cubed Root key; a Pi key; a Ten to the power of key; Arithmetic Mean, Standard Deviation of given number, Exponent, Natural Logarithm, and Natural Anti-Logarithm keys; nearly 90 keys that I had no idea about.
Within ten minutes the brand new Texas Instruments calculator had lost its lustre. I looked at my sister, in her great looking sweater vest and felt a little envious (…of a sweater vest!). The anticipation of getting the calculator and what the calculator actually was – were two entirely different things.
Around the same time there was a ketchup commercial that featured the song, “Anticipation.” The advent of the squeeze bottle rendered that sense of anticipation irrelevant. Yet, truly experiencing the joy of anticipation is a spiritual discipline that we ought to recapture.
I heard heaven, metaphorically, described as the moment between putting honey in your mouth and actually tasting the honey.
Here’s a quote from a letter I received once:
My Darling John:
Your fathers back is out—again! We had a foot and a half of snow and I had to do the shovelling. Part way through the shovel broke. Danny, from next door came over and helped. It took a while, but we got the job done. Your Dad’s back is well enough today to go out and buy me a new shovel.
Every Sunday night, when I lived in Toronto, my mother (living on Nova Scotia) sat down and wrote me a letter. Every Tuesday the letter, posted eight days earlier arrived in my mail slot at Trinity College at the Porter’s station.
Everyday, twice a day, I made the long walk to the Porter to see if there was a message or a letter for me. Only one letter came a week that I really cared about and wanted. But I made that long walk, hoping, with a great sense of anticipation that there would be a letter from home, a letter from my mother.
My Darling John:
Your sister’s car is in the shop—again! That’s the second time this month. There’s something’s wrong with the manifold. In church, we pray about our manifold sins, but I don’t know what that has to do with your sister’s car.
At lunch on Tuesdays, I would share my mother’s letters with my friends. They were short and matter-of-fact and we always had a good laugh.
The great beauty of the letters was that they contain all the information I would have know (without being told), if I’d been home.
My dad also sent me letters, not as often, but I still really appreciated them. I have memorized them too. “Dear John; I hope this helps. Love, Dad.” Then I made my way to the bank to deposit the content of his letter. That wasn’t shared with my friends at lunch.
Back to my mother’s letters:
My Darling John:
Your father and I attended a fancy banquet put on by the New England Governors and Atlantic Premiers. I sat beside the Governor of Massachusetts. He was a very charming man. Or at least he seemed so, until I spilled the contents of my wine glass in his lap. After that, he seemed less charming.
Don’t ever throw me a surprise party. I don’t like surprise parties. The reason is that a surprise party robs the person the party is for of the best part of the party; the anticipation. Anticipation is better than a surprise – far better.
Not that surprises are bad. Some are quite good.
My uncle died last month. I wasn’t able to go to St. John’s, Newfoundland for the funeral but my brother was there. The funeral home was a large one and very busy at the time. There were five visitations going on at the same time.
A very elderly man came into the funeral home to visit my uncle and commiserate with his family. But he went into the wrong room. He quietly walked up to the casket and looking in he saw a woman. No doubt he was surprised. He stood there for a moment to pay his respects and then quietly turned and left.
In the lobby he saw my brother and walked up to him and quietly whispered, “I didn’t know your uncle was a cross dresser.”
That’s a true story.
I have found – that at Christmas, even if you get what you want, there’s an emptiness. It might not be as fast as I experienced with my calculator when I was twelve, but eventually the toys or gadgets or sweater vests are just things. Yet, the anticipation of Christmas promises so much more.
When I took those long walks to the porter’s station at college it was kind-a-like the long walk that Joseph and Mary took to Bethlehem for the census.
The Porter’s Office was kind-a-like a Manger.
The Letter that I so hoped would be there was like the swaddling cloths that enveloped what truly mattered.
The Content of the letter was words, but today we celebrate, not just any words, but thē Word. The Word of God that was sent to the world, the Word was Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Word of God, the incarnation of God, Emmanuel (God with us) is the fulfillment of our anticipation, of our hope for a relationship with God, a God who desires to be known. A God who sends us this message, this letter, wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that we will know of his love.
My darling people;
I love you; I live among you, and whatever barriers you make between us I will destroy, because I love you.