One of the first Christmas gifts I received this year was a speeding ticket.
For years, I have made a hobby of collecting verbal warnings for driving too fast. I know I drive too fast. I am working on it. And I am getting pretty good at smiling, apologizing, and offering sympathetic and yet entirely honest explanations:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“I’m taking eight kids to church for their religious education.”
“I was distracted by the five kids in the back who were reciting the entire script of Finding Nemo.”
“I’m late picking up my son at baseball practice because I was dropping off my daughter at softball across town, two other kids at the library, and still another kid at tennis when the toddler threw up in his car seat.”
I’ll never forget the young officer — I think he was about 14 — who gave me my last verbal warning a few months ago.
“This really should be a ticket, Mrs. Bean,” he smiled genially and shook his head as he handed me my license and gave a final wave to the throng of kids in the back of my van.
“It won’t happen again,” I assured him.
But then it did happen again — last weekend, on the last Saturday before Christmas. This time, I had as good an excuse as ever: strep throat.
Strep is an insidious infection that tends to linger in a household, especially a large household. It silently simmers in symptom-free children while repeatedly infecting others. When I see fevers with vomiting in some children, sore throats with coughing in others, and headaches with fatigue in still others, this mom’s mind turns to one thing: antibiotics. And how to score some.
Scoring antibiotics on a Saturday afternoon can be a bit of a trick. With a family road trip planned for Christmas, though, I couldn’t afford to mess around. I made some phone calls and did some shameless begging. Our pediatrician kindly agreed to keep the office open past closing time so he could test my kids for strep. I rushed them out the door and headed straight for his office.
I didn’t realize how fast I was driving until I saw the police car. Then I knew instantly how fast I was driving: too fast. Way too fast. In fact, 20 miles per hour too fast, the not-so-friendly officer informed me before taking my license and leaving me alone in the car to contemplate my infraction.
Twenty miles? This was embarrassingly bad. And dangerous. And stupid. With no one to blame but myself.
Feverish kids in the back seat were quiet as I ran through the day’s events in my mind. Early morning basketball practice, a stop at the grocery store, standing in line at the post office, wrapping gifts, folding laundry, and cleaning house. Then caring for sick kids and frantic phone calls followed by the rush out the door.
This was my Advent today? Where was Jesus? In my focus on practical things and material preparations for Christmas, I was hurrying straight past Him.
But Jesus, like any good baby, knows how to gain our attention when we fail to give it. He sometimes uses a gentle nudge, but on stubborn souls He’s not above more aggressive tactics — like speeding tickets. Either way, the message is the same: Slow down. Turn your heart to Me.
Nearly every Advent, despite my best intentions to do otherwise, the material aspects of preparing for Christmas wind up trumping the spiritual. My prayer books sit in silence, but the tree, the gifts, the food, and the sugar-dosed children demand my attention. Immediately. And loudly.
The fortunate thing about Advent, though, is that even when we fail to wait for Jesus, He waits for us. Even when we fail to prepare our hearts for Christ, He waits, ready for us. His coming isn’t something we can earn. It’s grace — a gift, freely given and never deserved. Even when we fall short of expectations, even when we give in to temptations, even when we fail Our Lord in countless thoughtless ways, still Christmas comes. Our failings are the reason for His coming.
Last Saturday, after our doctor’s visit and a trip to the pharmacy to fill ten prescriptions for Cephalexin, I was ready. To get better. To keep busy-ness in its place, clean my heart as well as my home, and turn my thoughts to the gift of Jesus. With peace, gratitude, and joy.