It Only Happens Once a Year: Good News or Bad?
(Note: Due to Richard's lack of computer access during his vacation, the keeping of his blog has been turned over to a second-generation Dahlstrom. Never fear--the original will return soon!)
Up at five-thirty in the darkness and pouring rain of these darkest mornings, I go into the Starbucks where I work as a barista. This time of year, the struggle of being social so early in the morning blends into the conundrum of making believe that Christmas is, in itself, naturally magical and peaceful. “It only happens once a year,” proclaims every red cup, stack upon stack, reminding me that the season of Christmas is limited, and will soon be over. “The season” is so long at Starbucks that a customer can order a piece of gingerbread or an eggnog latte on roughly one of every six days, making the phrase ring slightly hollow to those of us who steam all of that eggnog for two months, but still I see it everywhere, the frenzied warning that this time will not last forever.
My job as a barista, metaphorically as well as literally, gives me plenty of reason to expect that people often lean on our catchy phrase as a comforting “Don’t worry; it’ll all be over soon” more than an exhortation to seize the… season. I spend mornings spinning around dangerously, my head full of brief and frantic shards of thoughts, scanning lines of people for the next moment to breathe or think or finally mop up the milk that I spilled five minutes ago. I write in acronyms because words take too much time and space, and speak in a language of quasi-Italian modifiers like “venti” and “breve,” all but unintelligible to outsiders.
How much like my job the holidays can become! We start take that relentless activity into all aspects of life, running around to complete shopping, traditions, and visits from family and friends, all by the inexorable December 25th deadline.
It only happens once a year, the Christmas season. Then I remember that the birth of Christ—this event at the very heart of this season of Advent—happened not once a year, like eggnog lattes and frantic gift-buying, but once. One birth. One child born to us, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And this birth, even to teenaged peasants in a common stable, was an arresting event. The kings of the East might have had planners full with advising or predicting appointments, but they instead chose to chase a star, knowing that at the end lay wonder beyond anything they could imagine. The shepherds, even more amazing, left their sheep, their entire livelihood, to fend for themselves in the middle of the night, convinced that worshipping the infant Messiah was more important.
Do I have enough faith to stop what I am doing to worship Christ? Would I be willing to turn around and follow Him? Or am I becoming a perpetual barista, always moving, but never paying attention to where I am? I’d like to say that this distraction only happens once a year, or even that it only happens to me. But I suspect that my frenzied holidays are not uncommon.
“And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased’” Luke 2:13-14.
The shepherds turned and chased the glory and the peace of Christ. In this busiest of seasons, I am challenged to do the same, arrested by the glorious presence of our Savior. Let us chase the rest He offers and worship Him, whether in stillness or activity, with every remaining moment.