I did not grow up celebrating Advent. In fact, I knew nothing about it until we joined a Methodist church 17 years ago. Like other new Methodist traditions, Advent involved a bit of a learning curve: the significance of candle colors, the four-Sunday calendar with corresponding readings, a wreath, the waiting. As with most things that surrounded the holiday, I turned it into an occasion to fashion something crafty and clever for my children so that we could begin a “tradition.” Finally, we had a prescribed spiritual ritual that was now properly, yet subtly, mandated by our church. (Complete with bonus candle wreath that I could turn into a project.) There was the Advent calendar and endless creative ideas for how to make each family Advent devotion a meaningful experience. As it turns out, I got caught up in the process and missed the meaning.
Over the years, I have realized that Advent is supposed to turn our frantic behavior into thoughtful reflection. We are to be people who wait with anticipation for the coming Messiah. And this year I have been honest to admit that I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be waiting for. I know that the baby Jesus was born in the manger, lived, died, rose again, and lives forever. To save me from my sins. End of story.
Or is it?
There is a risk of knowing the story too well, when in fact we reduce ourselves to only skimming it as we rush through the season. At least that’s my issue. I’m learning not to speak for you.
Advent goes against my nature to focus on waiting. I find it hard to quiet myself on any day of the year, but the days leading up to Christmas are filled with too much clatter. This year, I decided that instead of following along with the usual Advent rituals while pretending to grasp the magnitude of it, I would admit that I’m not exactly clear about what it is I’m waiting for. And I’ve tried desperately to quiet the noise enough so that I can answer the question. If you’re already beyond where I am and your season has been quiet, reflective, and worshipful, then perhaps you have something better to do than read on. But if you’re struggling to grasp the meaning of what is at the end of Advent anticipation – besides a heavy sigh of relief that the hustle and bustle has ended – here are a few thoughts:
We are waiting for rescue. The past few weeks have forced us to stare hard into the depths of depravity and sorrow. Humankind is capable of committing shocking acts of evil that drive us to our knees with endless questions. The massacre of small children in a U.S. elementary school is beyond belief, yet this kind of darkness in the heart surrounds us. We are all in need of rescue and we know it on a deep level. It’s a longing that we often can’t identify and a sense that even when life is good, there is something missing. We might tell ourselves that we are making it just fine, but we know better. And we only have to open our eyes to the hurting around us to know that we are not alone in this.
We are waiting for the broken to be fixed. The world is a broken place and looking at it can be so overwhelming that we avert our eyes. But our broken world demands that we not turn away. The world out there reflects the brokenness that we live with inside. Have you ever had that fleeting moment when you felt a deep sensation of something wonderful? It’s based on nothing; it just comes upon you and then is gone. I’ve had this – not often, but enough that the vividness of it makes me believe that it is from another source beyond what I see in front of me. We live with a deep hope that there will someday be a perfect and beautiful world that will fulfill every longing we’ve ever had.
We are waiting for God to fulfill his promise to restore everything back to the perfect and beautiful. Once, it was this way. Peace reigned. People were free and they communed with their Creator. Life was at its fullest. It was the perfect and beautiful, and that is what we long for. Long ago God made a promise of restoration. The Israelites waited for that promise and so do we. We wait for rescue, for the broken to be fixed, and for the restoration to be complete.
The promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus – a radical story that we have sanitized until it has become too familiar. The truth of it should shake us to our core every time: It is God who will fulfill of His promise of restoration by descending to earth and taking the form of a human. He was born as a poor refugee baby and grew into a man who rocked the religious establishment with his words and actions. He talked of a kingdom built on peace and humility and the first being the last. He went against everything that the religious people were looking for – and He still does. He comes to rescue us from ourselves. He comes to fix everything that is broken and to restore it back to the beautiful and perfect. This is what we celebrate. The waiting is over and restoration has begun. We are free.