During Advent 2009, I was “great with child.” In fact, when we introduced our newborn daughter to our toddler son in early January, he mistook her for the baby Jesus. Pregnancy reminds me of Advent. We wait and wait for our little ones to be born, but we do not usually know the exact time or day of his or her arrival. Yet we do know that it will come. Sometimes we wait with eager anticipation; other times we wait with heavy burdens. Sometimes waiting is painful, or boring, or feels neverending.
I doubt waiting has ever been easy, but it seems especially difficult in our world of fast food, Amazon prime, instant downloads, and text messages. We are conditioned to want immediate action, responses, and results.
But God isn’t like that. God takes a long view.
During Advent we prepare to welcome Jesus. We celebrate his first coming in the form of a baby so many years ago. This long-awaited Messiah did not arrive when the Jews expected him but when the Father sent him.
The season of Advent gives us the chance to practice waiting; to be mindful of the seasons of life; to prepare to celebrate the glorious birth of the Incarnate God.
But is there room for Advent in our age? Even before Halloween, big box stores stuff shelves with Christmas decorations, family members request gift ideas, and Christmas tunes tinkle over the radio. Some talk about the War on Christmas, but others have recognized a War on Advent.
To prepare and to wait, though, is a valuable precursor to celebrating and rejoicing. Without fasting, feasting may become gluttony. As we fall prey to never-ending celebration, we lose some of the joy and awe that comes when there is a marked change from preparation and waiting to arrival and celebration. The Lord has made us to experience both of these: sorrow and joy, fasting and feasting, lament and praise. To skip the one dulls the other.
Our wait to celebrate Christmas, to rejoice at the birth of our Lord Jesus, is not an endless wait. We know each year on December 25 we will celebrate and rejoice, and the fulfillment of the waiting period will be marked with joy.
Yet Advent is not merely a time to wait and prepare to greet Jesus the baby. It is also a time of preparation and waiting for Jesus’ return at some point in the future. Recently, my pastor preached on the parable of the ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom. One distinction he made between the group of bridesmaids with extra oil and those without was that the group with extra oil was prepared for the groom’s delay. What a fitting way to describe Advent--time to prepare for the groom’s delay. In God’s time, Christ will return and usher in the new heavens and the new earth and we will rejoice.
During Advent, we wait to celebrate Christmas, yet we also wait for Jesus to make all things new. We do not know when this will happen, but we trust in God’s timing.
This Advent, let us practice waiting on Jesus with anticipation, with patience, and with trust. He is coming.