On St Thomas Day, which was five days ago, young girls are told to throw their shoes at the door of the bedroom. This is after climbing into bed and turning around three times. It is said that if one does all of the fore-mentioned actions, one will dream of the man she is to marry, her bridegroom, he who will take care of her for the rest of her life and love her without ceasing.
On Christmas Eve, in many countries, children will refrain from throwing their shoes. Instead, they will place them outside the door in hopes that they will awaken on Christmas Day and find them full of candy and other treats. Historically this was done on St Nicholas Day which occurs during the first week of December but through the ages it has meandered down the calendar to December 24th.
If Advent is justly observed as a time of preparation and prayer is being in the presence of our faith, then this night is truly one of highest expectations. But what of the expectations that proceeded this night? What of the expectations of our prayers?
The third Sunday in Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. The readings generally held in many churches describe a cousin of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, a man history calls John the Baptist. This particular man might very well have been the first Hippie or the model for the first Hari Krishna. He wore unconventional clothing, slept among nature, and cared very little for social norms. He shared his exuberant passion for his faith with anyone who would listen. He gave to all great expectations of the deity who was to come, the promised Messiah of the Jewish faith.
The expectations of this man known as John the Baptist seemed to be incorrect as events played out. His cousin was arrested and then crucified. Would a deity allow himself such torture? Then the disciples of this Jesus seemed to lose their own faith and began to argue among themselves. What happened to their united front, their firm beliefs, their faith?
Prayer can sometimes be full of expectations that may seem to go unrealized. Much like what others felt from hearing John the Baptist, we seem to believe that if we say what we want in prayer, it will magically appear. Sometimes it does not and so we blame the act of prayer; we disclaim the practice as having any value at all.
Most people who believe strongly in a deity will also confess to, at times, feeling bereft of their faith. The patience of prayer is not easy. The joy of anticipation can seem like a double-edged sword. Answers to our prayers may seem absent if we fail to realize the meaningfulness of our present living. Trust me; every minute of your life has meaning and purpose. We just may not yet understand what it is.
A new pair of shoes is a promise of great things to come. Even an old pair of shoes can bring promise when placed outside the door as a child awaits their treats. It is not the shoe itself that offers such promise of joy, the anticipation of better things to come. It is the wearing of the shoe, the process of having the shoe that brings fruition of purpose.
The coming of a new day brings with it great expectations. The activities during this time of the year bring great joy and expectations. Patiently we wait for the joy to come and, hopefully, we have spread some joy to others while we waited.
I love the decorations and lights of this time of the year and yet, they too come with necessary action. One must get the decorations out, prepare them, put them up, and then, after enjoying them for a time, repeat the process in reverse.
Sometimes we think our prayers go unanswered and yet, if we would be patient and live a faithful life anyway, we would find they really were answered. Tonight many will reenact the coming of one who they feel will love them forever, take care of them, answer their prayers.
Others will simply enjoy the festivities and decorations without believing but still spread generosity and charity to all they meet. What we call our being present in our living is not as important as doing it. The number of times we recognize our prayers being heard is inconsequential. The number of times we pray is what is important. Prayer is hope. Prayer is faith in action. Prayer is having and receiving great expectations of love and mercy.
Tomorrow we will begin the twelve days of Christmas, twelve days of kindness. I will end this series on prayer with one from the twelfth century, a prayer written by Hildegard of Bingen, a most faithful believer who would later become a saint. “Fire of the Spirit, Life of the lives of creatures; Spirit of sanctity, bond of all natures; Glow of charity, lights of clarity; Taste of sweetness to the fallen…be with us and hear us.”
To those who celebrate, I wish you a most merry Christmas. To all others, I pray you have a peaceful and happy close to this year and live with great expectation of the coming year.