Advent is a season of anticipation. Anticipation for a Savior to bring light into a dark world.
But it has a melancholy tenor to it. It’s the time before the joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth that we remember at Christmas. A time of uncertainty.
In Advent, we’re not only “waiting” for a baby to be born in Bethlehem (which, as Christians, we believe already happened); we are also waiting for Jesus’ return, along with a host of other things both personal and communal, and even global—things like being loved and remembered, or hoping that others in our community are loved and remembered, or wishing for peace in our relationships or the whole world.
Sometimes, many times, these hopes and expectations go unanswered. It’s what makes Christmas a sad and lonely season for many. We live in the tension between the promise that God will redeem this fallen world and the reality that the world is still fallen. And found in the rubble of this broken world are the broken bits and pieces of our lives—our broken hearts, our broken families, our broken neighborhoods, our broken country.
Learning to Be Patient
We are impatient people, and it’s hard to sit still in the tension of waiting for God to fulfill all his promises. In some ways this season before Christmas makes our impatience uglier (think heavy traffic, long lines, busy parking lots, and cranky people—Merry Christmas! And bah humbug!). But in other ways the waiting we participate in during Advent is built into secular traditions surrounding the season, with the most obvious being our gifts that stay wrapped until December 25. In light of the presents we’re waiting to open, those pesky long lines become a reminder to wait patiently.
The anticipation of Christmas (or, for some, the sadness that can come at Christmas) might be felt most by children. On Christmas morning when I was a child, my parents would line me and my brothers up in the hallway before we scampered into the living room to unwrap our goodies. We would wiggle and hop and squeeze our eyes shut to keep from peeking around the corner. My parents claim they made us wait so they could set up the video camera and get their cups of coffee ready, but I think it was a needed moment of peace for them. For us, however, it was almost unbearable—the moment had arrived and yet we were still asked to wait. We had waited all month, nay all year, for that morning to arrive! We were so excited!
Remembering to Trust
Do we wait in such eager anticipation for the coming of Jesus? It’s hard to muster that kind of excitement as an adult, be it about Christmas or anything else. I wonder if it’s because we lack the trust that Jesus will really come again to bring about the restoration of the world. We preach it, we say we believe it, but do we live like it? Do we wiggle around and hop up and down, excited and full of anticipation for that promised day?
Trusting God is one of the hardest lessons to learn—or maybe not to learn, but to remember. Like a broken record, I turn around once and find myself in the same spot I have been time and time again: learning to trust God in all circumstances. The lesson might as well be put on permanent repeat.
I’m not learning a trust that expects God to fulfill my wishes, though. (He isn’t a genie.) Instead, it’s trust that believes in the goodness of God. Advent helps me focus on this kind of trust: hope in a loving God who sent his Son into the world and will send him again. And I do believe that someday this world, and my life, will be truly and fully redeemed.
As we move out of Advent and into Christmas this week, may we all wait in eager anticipation for that day.