The Saturday before Christmas, my grandson Brock and I loaded up several shopping bags with presents and set out to play Santa. The gifts were for three children we’d never met, children whose father was incarcerated in the local county jail.
I had taken Brock with me to shop for Gabriel and Jordan and Hope. Their father had offered gift suggestions on the form he’d filled out. Sports stuff for the boys. A doll and art things for the girl. Carefully Brock and I had perused the aisles at K-Mart.
“How much can we spend?” Brock asked, fingering the balls and bats and soccer gloves.
“About $20 each,” I said.
His eyes widened. “Nina, it’s not enough!”
I had explained to Brock that the kids’ father could not buy presents for them this year, that he couldn’t even be there to provide food or pay the bills. Brock was set to deliver a truckload of presents to make up for that.
“Let’s look for some deals and see what we spend.”
So now here we were, wearing Santa hats and driving toward an address in a nearby town. Brock was excited to be part of this process, proud that we’d bought soccer balls and footballs, an over-the-door basketball net. Things he himself played with. He’d been pleased, too, with the drawing tablets and colored pencils and Barbie doll we’d gotten for Hope.
I’d talked to the mother on the phone and arranged to drop off the gifts at 9 a.m. We pulled into the parking lot of an old apartment complex shortly after that. We grabbed the bags, straightened our Santa hats and headed for the address on the form. The porch was littered with leaves…and a dozen unopened newspapers. I hope they haven’t moved! I thought as we knocked on the door. And knocked again. No response, although I did see a light on inside.
“Maybe they went to McDonald’s for breakfast,” Brock said. I smiled. That’s what we’d done on the way here.
“Let’s go back to the car and wait.”
Ten minutes later we tried again, pounding on the door this time. Nothing.
Back in the car, Brock expressed frustration. “How can she not be here when she knew we were coming?”
How could I explain to Brock that not everyone kept appointments…or even track of time? That some lives were jumbled and troubled and untidy? I could hear Brock fidgeting in the back seat. I knew he had a birthday party to attend later this morning and no doubt had begun to worry about being late.
“We’ll just wait another 10 minutes,” I said.
Just then a cab pulled up and a woman got out. She headed across the frozen grass in the direction of the apartment where we’d been knocking in vain. I stepped outside and called out the mother’s name. Her head turned at once. “We’re here to deliver presents for the children.”
Brock and I again gathered the bags, and she met us on the sidewalk. She smiled down at Brock, his Santa hat now slightly askew. “Are you Santa’s helper?” Brock nodded and smiled back, his snaggle-toothed grin young and innocent.
Suddenly she reached out for me, enveloping me in a hug. “Thank you. Thank you.”
“There’s a little something for you in there, too,” I said, thinking of the book and box of candy I’d wrapped.
The bags exchanged hands and Brock and I turned back to the car. “I hope you get everything you want for Christmas,” she called.
Brock stopped and turned back to wave at the solitary figure standing on the sidewalk, bright ribbons and wrapping peaking out of the bags she was holding.
We climbed into the van and buckled up for the trip home.
“Well, that was worth waiting for!” Brock said.
That was worth waiting for.
Those words stayed with me all week as I waited for Christmas, for Advent, for the coming of Christ into the bleak mid-winter. How many others had felt that joy, that relief, that excitement? The shepherds, the Wisemen, Anna and Simeon at the temple. Mary herself. Messiah has come! The prophets have been fulfilled! Everything will be different now!
That was worth waiting for.
Today I will pack away my Christmas decorations—all except the candles that burn brightly in my windows, waiting for the Wisemen to arrive on Epiphany. My thoughts will turn to work deadlines and church commitments, to throwing out the last of the sugar cookies and doing laundry. But I will keep a ripple of joy, a surge of anticipation beneath it all, fed by the fact that the Christ who came as a baby will come again as a King. The sky will split and glory will engulf all the faithful. How can we not be ready when we know He’s coming?
Of course, the details of the Second Coming are hidden, opaque. No one knows when…or quite how. But this one thing I do know: It is so worth waiting for!