Nothing motivates quite like a deadline. And for those who get things done well in advance of the due date, I only feel pity. They know nothing of the thrill of a drop-dead end-time. Nor do they ever experience the burst of creativity that comes with the intense pressure to get something done, preferably yesterday. No, it has to be a tedious existence when you finish something days before it’s due, and then have to sit there with nothing to keep you busy. How sad.
As for me, I’m firmly in the ranks of the procrastinators. I recall many a college paper that crunch time transformed from a C into a C+. What a thrill. But mostly I recall the day when I adopted an entirely new philosophy of life. It was the day I turned in my PhD dissertation. That day it dawned on me that the only thing better than perfect is done. That was a game-changer.
Christmas is one of those deadlines that separate the sheep from the goats; or to be more precise, those who got cards mailed and shopping done weeks ago, versus those who desperately count on the twelve days of Christmas to be there when they need them. The only thing left for the former is to defrost the Christmas dinner and serve it. For the latter, Christmas dinner has yet to be planned.
Procrastinators experience this season in an entirely different way. While their peers are reading novels and sipping hot chocolate, the rest of us are crazy-busy at the mall or at airports. Still others are begging special favors from the FED-EX and UPS people. Mainly we sit in traffic or wait in long lines, vowing that next year will be different. But of course it never is.
The good news is that there are still three days standing between us and Christmas. For some of us that’s all the time in the world. That’s even enough time to reflect on what all this mess was about in the first place — Advent. Remember the voice crying in the desert? Well, the good news is that John the Baptist has not given up on us. He’s still out there crying in the desert, reminding us that there’s plenty of time to do something, anything.
There’s no time and little point in writing a long essay on the cosmic significance of what John had to say. I don’t have the time to write it, and scarcely anyone has the patience to read it. So here’s the abbreviated version.
First, with his words and with his finger John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, whose sandal he was unworthy to unfasten. Whether this upset his mom, who probably wished better for him, is irrelevant. John did not strive to be #1, because it was all about Jesus. Apart from Jesus he might have been the #1 prophet of his day, but what would be the point of that? John drew his meaning from Jesus, and that was the relationship to which he called all who listened to him in the desert.
The second point that strikes me is John’s choice of the desert as the setting for his sermons. In the desert there are none of the usual distractions. There you face a fundamental reality of life. If you are alone in the desert, survival becomes an issue. If you stand with others, you could very well flourish. And that’s what John taught. Alone they could do little or nothing. But building a relationship with God and neighbor might allow you to flourish. The choice is ours to make.
So what do we do with three days left in Advent? Well, in the spirit of John the Baptist, I encourage you to consider two things, neither of which will take much time.
First, do something for yourself. Let your mind wander out into the spiritual desert to pray for a moment. Read something from the Bible, or select one of the readings from the Mass of the day or a Psalm. Read it, and for a few minutes mull over what it has to say to you. Ignore the mall and the advertising, both of which will still be there when your mind comes back to pseudo-reality. But in the serenity of a moment clear your mind of clutter and find out how soothing a bit of peace can be.
Secondly, take a moment to do something for Jesus. I’ve always been fond of Mother Theresa’s words of exhortation: “Do something beautiful for Jesus.” This need not be a big deal, but even a minute or two in which we pay attention to the needs of a fellow human being can work wonders for the other person, and it may impact our own soul as well. In doing so we may actually discover that Jesus lives in our neighbor. What a wonderful surprise that could be.
The good news is that neither of these suggestions takes much time, and they’re not all that difficult to do. But the return on our puny investment of time and energy can be enormous. So between now and Christmas Day, give it a shot. And if it works, try it again after Christmas — unless of course you have other plans. But even if you do, God and neighbor will be standing by, just in case you change your mind.
+On December 15th I celebrated Mass and spoke to the San Francisco area members of the Order of Malta.
+On December 17th I attended a Lessons and Carols Service at the Cathedral in Los Angeles. Afterwards I attended a dinner hosted by Archbishop José Gomez, at which he thanked the many people who sit on archdiocesan boards and volunteer in the ministry of the archdiocese.
+On December 21st the monks of Saint John’s held an Advent service of Lessons and Carols, in place of our usual Sunday vespers.
+Recently I completed John Rhöl’s Kaiser Wilhelm II: a concise life (Cambridge University Press, 2014.) As promised, it was a concise life, and I found myself speeding along and wishing it were longer. It ended way too soon, and I would have enjoyed learning a lot more about this fascinating and troubled individual. On the other hand, this was an abridged version of the author’s magisterial 4,000-page biography, which must have included everything the kaiser ever ate, did or said. I don’t think I want to know that much about him, so I will content myself with the concise life.
+There’s more than one way to tell the Christmas story, besides words. The first photo in today’s post is a stained-glass Annunciation, made most likely in Cologne in the mid-fifteenth century. It’s now housed in the Cluny Museum in Paris. The next photos continue the story, this time in stone. They are from a tympanum at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.