Almost! But not yet.

Every year, the period between the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve is one that tempts even the most strict observer of the liturgical seasons to begin to cheat just a bit.

We get the Christmas tree up and decorated; we begin to openly listen to Christmas carols (instead of doing so privately and somewhat secretly); we mail out those Christmas cards and begin to say "Merry Christmas!"  Especially since some of the people we see this week we may not actually see during Christmas.  Or so we say.

But it is, of course, still Advent until the evening of December 24.  Even if little bits of Christmas are leaking in, it's still Advent.

The thing is, all this waiting is hard. We are feeling the strain of all this expectation.  We want it to be Christmas already!

When I was young, I, like most children, got so very excited about Christmas that I had trouble sleeping.  I was often up at 4:30 on Christmas morning.  I remember one year I just couldn't take pressure any more. As soon as we finished dinner, about 7:30 I guess, I put on my pajamas and got ready for bed.  I didn't care if it was 7:30, I couldn't wait another minute.  (We didn't attend Christmas Eve services in those days in my family.)

I was under the covers and just turning out the light about 8:00 p.m. when the doorbell rang.  Surprise guests were arriving, a family of five who lived in the house we used to live in down the road; the adults were friends of my parents and the children were friends of mine.

Well, what an embarrassment!  I could turn on my bedroom light quickly enough, but there I was in my nightgown at 8:00 in the evening when my friends were out and about in the neighborhood, visiting folks.  I grabbed some clothes and rushed into the bathroom to re-dress and come out casually - but with my heart pounding in fear that I'd be found out.  The truth would come out, I feared, that I was so excited about Christmas that I couldn't stand the waiting.

And then we went into the basement (my winter playroom) and played together until close to midnight! I remember how much we enjoyed our games of "house" and "school" and "olden days" during those magical oh-so-close-to-Christmas hours while our parents played cards and laughed together upstairs.

There is an end to this waiting, and it is coming soon.  There are still preparations to be made, both inward and outward, but it is truly almost time to celebrate.  Perhaps our waiting now is best done in company with others to keep us grounded in love and joy and to savor that company and that love and that joy.

For me, that means going to church a lot.  What better way to spend these last few days before the Feast of the Nativity than standing before God with gratitude, in community.