I have a problem, I admit it. I love the holidays. And I love them independent of any of their spiritual significance. I’m set apart from my peers because I love all of the secular and commercial aspects of the Christmas season. That’s why my Twitter handle right now is a little bit of a misnomer, but Jon-needs more than a little Christmas. I love it all. I love the carols, which I start listening to on November 1. I love the food, drinks (including aged eggnog), and dessert (yule logs, in particular). I love the parties and decorations. I love the Macy’s light show, the Christmas village at City Hall. I love it all, and somehow suffer no cognitive dissonance when celebrating it, despite the excess and consumerism..
My enthusiasm about the season celebrates the longing for joy that so many around me have. But it misses the mark in many ways. As I drown myself in the Christmas spirit, I miss Advent altogether. There’s a cost to that, and I pay it by participating so festively. But if you push me, I actually prefer the godless merriment to Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus too soon.
I’m not sure what’s worse, all of the tinsel and garland, or pushing us straight to that O Holy Night and that Silent Night before we’ve digested the Thanksgiving turkey. And so this year, I want us to wait with more intention. I want to expectantly wait for our deliverance, and actually feel the impact of the birth of Jesus and the incarnation. So we’re waiting for Emmanuel together. Asking God With Us to come. We wait with hope and joy because we know that we will be delivered because we have been delivered. And yeah, jumping too soon to Christmas Eve ruins the anticipation. It causes us to miss the point.
Advent is about expectant waiting. It is about awaiting deliverance. It is about feeling our own captivity and waiting to be liberated from it. We do this with the assurance that God will be faithful, and with the assurance that Jesus will deliver us, since He has already.
We remember God’s faithfulness by looking back at how God has been faithful: to the Prophets of old, John the Baptist, Mary, and the Shepherds, and seeing how God delivered them. We look at how they waited for deliverance and we wonder how we are now. Because though Jesus has come to earth, lived, died, and resurrected, we live in his salvation. And because the world around is still alien to us in many ways, we know what it was like to wait for Jesus the first time. What’s more, we are waiting for Jesus to return again, now. Jesus’ deliverance will come, we await that deliverance now, with the presence of Jesus within us.
Fleming Rutledge tells us that “The Christian community lives in Advent all the time. It can well be called the Time Between, because the people of God live in the time between the first coming of Christ, incognito in the stable in Bethlehem, and his second coming, in glory, to judge the living and the dead.”
“Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires.”
We actually have to feel our lack, our depravity, what’s missing. We have to dwell in the darkness. We have to reflect on the captivity we’re in. And that’s hard to do because the message we receive is that we are free, and free to consume our expectation and anticipation away. Our appetites are spoiled by the time the meal is finally delivered.
Advent is about waiting and we have to be very intentional about waiting during the season, since it is not something our society teaches us to do. We are instantly gratified, but our appetites are never satiated. That’s because we are filling them with what does not satisfy.
Even today, though, with the knowledge and presence of Jesus among us, we are in our own Advent waiting full deliverance. And that’s good because of the horror that surrounds us requires liberation. We know the work isn’t done, even though it’s begun. We know that deliverance isn’t here yet, and so we wait for our deliverance, not unlike those people before us did.
We’re learning to wait this Advent season. We’re learning how to wait. We’re considering what comes up when we wait. Though our deliverance is assured, it isn’t here yet, and there’s that feeling of expectation that brings uncertainty despite our knowing God’s faithfulness will endure. Imagine being a child waiting for your mother to return. Certain she will, but also what if she doesn’t?
This is not meant to be a dramatic image, but I have to admit it’s not easy. It’s hard to believe that God will be a faithful parent, when our parents may not have been. How we grew up affects how we relate to God now. So consider your own upbringing as you awaited your parents to be the people you needed them to be, and note your disappointment or your satisfaction. Allow it to inform how you wait for God now and for what you wish God to fulfill and satisfy in you.
Maybe it’s not clear what captivity we’re in and how we’ll be delivered. It’s hard to live as hungry people in such an engorged society. This is why it’s helpful to look back at stories of people who have come before us and delivered. Join us in our Sunday meetings and cells this Advent season as we explore those stories and envision ours and what we are waiting for.