Advent (Reflections on the Season)

“How is Christmas going with all the chaos?” he asked, referring to my job.

“Ah, man!  This is certainly our busy season!  Things are so crazy, busy!  Wednesday is going to be hectic.  I just need a good night’s sleep.  I need to have one day where everything is clear from work.  The last two weeks have added chaos, but it’s no one fault, it’s just life being life.  And honestly?  Every day, at least once, if not more, I think in my head ‘Is it Christmas already?’  I just need it to be here!  It seems like forever away, and I’m tired of waiting for it!’”

He chuckled and jokingly responded, “Gee, you make it sound like its Advent or something.”

I laughed.  He had a point.  If there is any time of the year we grow anxious and tired of waiting, it should be during Advent.

According to Google’s dictionary, Advent means, “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.”  But often, in the evangelical Church, this is not what Advent means.  We think Advent means Christmas and where we sing Christmas songs, but the truth be told, Advent and Christmas are completely different celebrations.  They are not one in the same.

The emphasis on Advent is on waiting, not the arrival.  We are waiting for several things.  We are waiting for God to intercede in our lives, in our world, in our culture, but most importantly in our hearts.  We are waiting for Jesus to return.  We are waiting for the whole world to see His glory.  Advent is waiting, Christmas is the actual arrival of Christ!  It’s the arrival of God in our lives, in our world, in our culture, but most importantly, in our hearts.

A couple of weeks ago, two sisters from our youth programs were visiting in Church on Sunday.  One of the girls pointed to the Advent wreath on the Holiness Table and asked me what it was.  I was able to explain that each candle represents a week before Christmas.  The first candle represents the expectation of Jesus, the second, third and fourth candle represent hope, love, and joy while we wait.  I explained the pink candle stands out from the other purple ones to mean that Christ is almost here.  It’s almost time for Jesus to be born!   But the girls’ eyes got really big as I explained that the wreath is in a circle to mean eternity.  Just like there is no beginning nor end to a circle and it just goes on and on, so it is with God because He is eternal.  “That’s really cool!” one of the girls said, “I really like that!”  (And this is the part of the story when I say to the evangelical Church as a whole, “we don’t need anything for salvation other than Jesus, but a little symbolism never hurt anyone.  In fact, when it is done right, it enhances our spiritual walk.  We need to wake up to this fact before we lose everyone.”)

I’ve grown tired of Christmas music during Advent.  I want to hear Advent music.  I want to hear the pleads of:

O come, O come, Emmanuel  And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And I want to hear the hope:

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny From depths of Hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I want to hear of how God has been faithful before, we can be assured that He will be faithful again:

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height, In ancient times did’st give the Law, In cloud, and majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I want to feel the anxiety and the anticipation of the 400 years of silence, as humanity awaited to hear the voice of John the Baptist, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

I want to feel the awaiting in pain, and still have joy and still have hope. I want to know what it’s like to be in slavery and awaiting One who can set my heart free, and people free.  I want to know the pain of the people of the past and the chains of their souls, so that I may truly understand what spiritual freedom is today, for God’s people.  I don’t want Jesus’ life here on earth to be something my heart takes for granted, I want to appreciate it!  And so maybe that cliché, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” is true.  (Or perhaps maybe we need to change it to, “Waiting makes the heart grow fonder”.)  I want my brow to drip drops of blood as I cry, “Come Lord, Jesus, Come!  Come make this whole place new!  Do what You do best: restore, recreate, renew, transform.  Come be the everlasting Light this world and our souls need!  Come, Lord Jesus, Come!  Have we not waited long enough?”

I wait to feel the impatience, the need, and the plead, and then find myself on Christmas mourn with tears of pure joy, “Joy to the world, the Lord is Come! Let Heaven and nature sing!”

Finally, we are free!

Finally, we can breathe!

Finally, God has come to dwell with humanity!

Finally, the promise we have been waiting for, has arrived!

There is a significance in waiting, so let’s not push it past us in hurry to sing the best Bing Crosby or Pentatonix Christmas song, or too quick to turn and read the birth story of our Savior. Let’s first look back, back into the Old Testament, as they await the coming of a Savior to rescue us from darkness.  Let’s walk around in their shoes for a while.  Then maybe… just maybe… we’ll get a greater glimpse of the great arrival of Jesus!

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.  (–Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus–)

So, let’s act like it Advent… or something… ;-)