Advent focuses on waiting, preparing and anticipation. For most of my life, I didn’t get it. I could only associate Advent with waiting to open the Christmas presents that were scattered underneath the tree.
When I became a Christian, I was told that Advent was about looking forward to the coming of Christ to the world. Frankly, that didn’t make much sense because I understood the Christmas story as an historical event. Why were we waiting for something that already happened? I could never conjure up genuine feelings of anticipation or expectation.
That’s starting to change. I’ve been revisiting the issue of waiting and asking a couple of questions. One, what are we waiting for? Two, what is the nature of waiting?
The older I’ve become, the more suffering I have become aware of–my own suffering and the real pain of others in their suffering. The prophetic words of Scripture speak of this suffering in such words as: darkness, oppression, war, bloodshed, injustice, enemies, hatred, anxiety, slavery, corruption, and groaning.
Tasting the reality of suffering has also made the promise of Jesus’ kingdom more real as well. God promises a day of: light, gladness, freedom, deliverance, justices, righteousness (things in the world being made right), salvation (healing and restoration), mercy, rescue, forgiveness and restoration.
Now that’s something to look forward to. It’s real, tangible. I can imagine what that kind of world would be like because I know what kind of world that suffering brings. That kind of coming of Jesus inspires so much more than the annual bath-robe pageant we call the church Christmas program.
It’s worth waiting for.
It’s a different kind of waiting, though. This is not the “waste-your-time” waiting we do when we hit the snooze button on our alarm and sleep an extra 30 minutes. Nor is it the anxiety-riddled waiting of the hospital emergency room. Nor is it he apathetic waiting that comes after hearing repeated empty promises of politicians.
The Biblical kind of waiting involves expectation and participation. We have certainty of the promise. We jump in and do what we can to help bring it about, to prepare for the promise.
This past Thanksgiving my wife and I hosted a family gathering in our home. The meal was to be served at 12:30. All morning, my we waited for our guests. Waiting didn’t mean sitting leisurely in our living room, sipping coffee and reading magazines. We didn’t pace the floor, mumbling, “Will they really come? What if they were lying to us?” over and over. Nor did we tell each other, “I’ll believe it when I see it. They’re not really coming. They just said they were so we will like them.”
Our waiting was about expectation. We knew our family was coming. We knew when we would eat. We knew what they were bringing to add to the meal. We imagined what our conversations would be like, and planned what to do after the meal.
Our waiting was about participation. My wife and I teamed up to prepare the meal. She peeled and mashed potatoes, tossed the salad and baked the cranberry cake (a tradition that has overcome pumpkin pie in our home). I carved the turkey, emptied ice trays and got out the dishes.
Our family fulfilled their promise to attend. They arrived on time. We did our part by anticipating, preparing and participating. Together, we combined to create a wonderful event.
In Advent we are reminded of God’s promises. We anticipate and expect. We participate with God by giving ourselves to the work of His kingdom–doing what we can to establish righteousness, freedom and loving kindness on the earth.