When I was in college, I had the great, good fortune and blessing to be able to spend a year abroad. My junior year, I was enrolled at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. It was a seminal moment in my life and has been a wellspring of life-lessons that have informed my journey as an adult.
As I ponder the breaking in of the liturgical season of Advent, and with it the beginning of a new liturgical year as a child of Christ in the tradition of the Episcopal Church, my mind hearkens back to the evening of December 31st, 1987. That evening, I was in London with a friend who was from my college in the States. We had met up in the city after our respective families had left for home following their holiday visits to the "kids in Europe." London in the days following Christmas and before the New Year's holiday is a magical place to be. The city is still done up for the holiday, and the culture-at least in those days-still held to seeing Christmas as a twelve-day journey. So, we had a chance to enjoy a city that was, relatively, at rest and at ease with itself.
Into that environment, my friend and I plunged ourselves. We visited our favorite museums, Harrod's, St. James' Park and of course the cathedrals and Buckingham Palace. During a lunch break in Piccadilly, we came across the British equivalent of the TKTS booth in Times Square, NYC. For those of you who are not familiar with this venerable NYC tradition: at the booth you can often get discounted, same-day tickets to shows that people like us poor students would normally not get a chance to see.
So, on a whim, we went to see what sort of tickets we could get on a New Year's Eve in London for a show on the West End.
We scored. Orchestra Center seats for a very well-reviewed and critically acclaimed production. Hooray!
Note to anyone reading...when choosing a play to go to in a town that is thousands of miles from home and far from family on a holiday for which you are accustomed to being with those same...do not choose to go and see Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." Just. Don't. Do. It.
It was a fabulous production, with a riveting group of actors at the very to of their game. We were moved and challenged...and then my friend and I went back to the cheap hotel room we had rented for our London stay. It was near midnight, and there we were: the room was dingy and smelled of stale curry eaten by a previous inhabitant; we were both missing our families and friends from home (desperately); we were as tired and lonely as you can only be after participating in a performance of existentialist theater.
...and then, somewhere off in the fog of a winter's night, we heard it: the chimes of the bell, Big Ben, down in Westminster at the Parliament Building, striking midnight. I was a sorrowful tone. Just in case you don't know, Big Ben has a crack in it (always has), and so its tone is just a bit...well....off. To me, it always sounds like the bell is just a little bit depressed. Just a bit, and that night, just enough.
Happy New Year.
I still remember my friend's comment: "Well, it really is all up from here, isn't it?"
Looking back on that moment, I am seeing new wisdom in the accidental choice of plays and our mutual bout of self-inflicted existential angst. Waiting is not easy, not at all, and yet it is an intrinsic part of our existence as human beings. We wait, often on each other and always on God as God is about to do something with, and in our lives.
So, looking back, I find myself seeing this Advent as a time to wait on God with some of that same grace-filled worry/tension/hope that my friend and I shared that night.
Still, at 45, I think I can do without the smell of that stale curry.
Come, Emmanuel, Come!