When I was little, the days leading up to Christmas were agony. Every year, I thought the anticipation was going to kill me. I’d pour over my Christmas list, wondering if I had really made the right choices, like asking for Stretch Armstrong. Which is always, the right decision.
I’d beg my mom to setup the Christmas decorations, secretly hoping when we pulled them out I’d get a sneak peak at some of my presents. It only worked once.
It was awesome.
Christmas Eve was the worst of all. Every year, my sister and I stayed up late. We’d try to go to sleep. But we were so excited, we couldn’t. Instead, we’d wake up nearly every hour, like our bladders were 70 years old, thinking it was Christmas morning. And then finally,
after much anticipation
I don’t look forward to Christmas anymore like I did back then. Between Christmas decorating, shopping, family gatherings, that awful Santa Baby song (you’re gross, Madonna) and everything else that comes with the season — by the time Christmas finally comes around — I’m kind of over it.
At least, that’s how it was until I started practicing the tradition of Advent. Advent is a period of time (4 Sundays before Christmas) on the liturgical calendar, started by the Church in the Middle Ages, to draw peoples thoughts toward two things.
1. It’s an invitation to enter into the agony of Israel in the Old Testament.
For much of the Old Testament, Israel was holding fast to this promise from God to redeem what had been broken in the world. He said He’d send them a Messiah, a Savior King, who would bring peace to all men. For hundreds of years, Israel waited and hoped and prayed for the coming Christ. They sang songs and wrote stories about God’s goodness and His blessings. They dwelled on and continually recited these things to remind themselves of the coming day when the fullness of God’s promises would come to pass.
As Christians, Advent invites us to enter into the same longing Israel felt. In my devotional and prayer time during the Advent season, I try to place myself in the story of Israel. I think about how I would have prayed if I was waiting for this promise from God. I read the prayers of Israel — the promises they held onto — and I try to enter that same sacred space through the lens of Advent. All of this builds until Christmas day, when I read the Christmas story with my family and think about, inside of this framework, how my life would be radically changed if I knew the promise the last few generations had prayed for
2. It’s an invitation to look forward to the Second Coming of Christ.
Not only is Advent a time for us to look back to the miracle in the manger, it’s a season where we’re invited to look forward — in agony — to the day when Christ returns. Just like Israel was waiting for the Christ to arrive the first time, we now as Christians are waiting for His second coming.
It’s pretty agonizing, at least for me, when I look around at the brokenness of the world. From terror attacks, to people who hold to the name of Christ doing un-christlike things, to divisive politics, to my own failures; it feels pretty dark at times.
Oftentimes we want to wash these feelings away. We act like they’re anti-Christian and an attack on God. But I don’t think they are. I think Advent invites us to enter into these dark spaces. I think God has given us, as His people, this holy restlessness that says everything isn’t okay.
Like when I was a kid — feeling like I’m going to burst before Christmas finally arrived — we’re waiting for the return of Jesus. We’re desperate for His return. I’m desperate for His return. We wait in agony when we hear of terror attacks. We wait in agony when we see videos of children sleeping on cold cement. We wait in agony, knowing God will redeem these horrors.
We advent, like Israel, waiting for Messiah.
This is why we celebrate Christmas. It’s why we can stand in the midst of tragedy and give thanks. Christmas reminds us that Jesus already came once and Advent reminds us He promised to come
soli deo gloria
*P.S. Hey! This year I’m intentionally slowing down every day to take time and work through some Advent passages. I’d love for you to join me during the Advent season. Beginning November 29th, and every day leading up to Christmas, I’ll be sending out an Advent devotional. If you’d like to journey through Advent with me, enter your email here: http://eepurl.com/bGNvSn