It was a pleasant change of pace this week, then, when I found myself with a spare hour. Rather than stuff in yet another hour of seemingly unending Christmas shopping I wandered into a church in the centre of Oxford and just sat for a while. Being Oxford there were loads of tourists and I must have cut quite a strange figure sat up in the middle of the balcony all alone with my eyes shut and no apparent purpose. There will likely be a number of tourists puzzling at that random person who ruined their snap of that stained glass window but as it is Advent, a time of waiting and wondering, that was exactly what I was doing. Waiting, thinking, mulling things over.
This week marks a special anniversary for me. It is ten years since I became a Christian one chilly night as a student in Bristol. The story sounds more than a little strange in the retelling. There I was, an outspoken atheist when I went into the pub and a couple of hours and half a bottle of red wine later I emerged into that frosty night well and truly on the way to becoming a committed Christian. Out of nowhere I had a faith and a hope and a brand new future that I could never, in a million years, have predicted.
What I realised as I sat in that church this week was that this life changing night ten years ago came to me on the basis of me doing absolutely nothing at all. It remains the best day of my entire life and the point from which my whole adult life has emerged. It has been the source of my joy, my coming into myself, my everything. And I did nothing to bring that about. I didn't work for it. I didn't strive. I had no idea it was coming. It was pure gift. Now as I stare down many challenges, when I have so many prayers and petitions floating before the throne of God that I can hardly count them, I am glad to be reminded of that.
So this season of Advent, I am waiting. Waiting for the heart and strength to let some things go, waiting for the confidence to pick some things up, waiting for a taste of something that I know only God can give like he did that night ten years ago. And though, being the controlling menace that I am, waiting isn't the most comfortable thing in the world, it still feels refreshing and freeing. To not have to be the answer to my own questions, to remember that in a single magical moment God can do everything for you that you could never even dream up for yourself.
That is what Christmas is about, waiting for the miraculous. For all the things you never even knew you needed. Just waiting, with wide open hands and no idea what you will receive.