Advent 4: How To Get What You Want

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In this Advent series of posts, we have been exploring the various themes of the season and looking ahead to the coming of Christ -his birth as a baby and his return as King. Today, on this eve of Christmas Eve, we will wrap up by looking once more at the value of waiting.

There is a paradox in waiting. We tend to view waiting as an inherently negative thing because waiting implies the absence of something. We don’t have that thing we are saving our money for so we have to wait; we aren’t sitting on the beach on vacation so we have to wait through weeks and months of winter; we aren’t yet at home in God’s presence in a world free of sin or grief or pain. So we wait. Waiting isn’t the most fun we’ve ever had. We think if we could snap our fingers and get what we want, all of our problems would be over.

But would that really solve our problems? Is waiting really all that bad? I think there is something to desire for a thing that contributes to its joy; the joy of anticipation contributes to the satisfaction of realizing that which we have waited for. If you take away the anticipation you take away from the joy. This is really hard for us to see because we are impatient, entitled and spoiled. But getting what you want all the time actually makes you less happy. Waiting sets us up for the win of getting what we want and need.

And that’s what makes Advent special. Instead of running from waiting or complaining about how it’s “just the worst,” Advent invites us to embrace the waiting as part of the process of becoming who God is calling us to be. Nicky Gumble said,

“Who you become while you are waiting is as important as what you are waiting for.”

Things that shape our character are often uncomfortable. But there are no shortcuts to strong character. Often the things that are the most rewarding require the hardest work (and are hard to work for). But the payoff is worth it.

So I encourage you to have joy as you wait. Savor the anticipation. It helps to consider the unlikely nature of the Christmas story. Jesus, the only Son of God, being born of a virgin in a stable, growing up to be revealed as the Messiah, crucified, buried, resurrected, now the reigning King awaiting the perfect moment to return and establish his throne on the earth. I don’t have math complicated enough for the likelihood that all those events would line up (those kinds of equations are well beyond my understanding). If, after all the waiting for the Messiah,  God cares enough to send him to be born in Bethlehem, it means that he also cares about you and me and our predicament. He cares for us while we wait and is forming us in the process.

Don’t forget that waiting is part of the joy. Anticipation makes realization even sweeter, even if what we are anticipating will only come when Jesus’ second Advent arrives and he makes all things new. The invitation to us is to experience the moments of the present in light of tomorrow’s bright future. For he will surely remember his mercy to those who fear him (Luke 1:50).

Merry Christmas.

JV

Advent 3: What ARE We Waiting For?

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Welcome to week three of Advent. In this series of posts I’ve been exploring some of the themes of this short season of Christian year that is designed to prepare our hearts once again for the celebration of Christmas. Hopefully these thoughts will stir you to some deeper reflection this Advent season.

In the last post, we talked about Advent being an invitation to put ourselves into the place of the people of God just before Jesus was born. Think of all the years of nothing from God but silence. There must have been some people anxiously waiting, some confidently expecting, and I’m sure many who had lost all hope.

That sounds like it could be true of us today don’t you think? Many people are anxiously waiting in what feels like endless darkness for a light to shine in. Some are confidently expecting deliverance. Many are hopeless and wandering.

Even though we don’t talk much about it, Advent is a season to expect the two aspects of Christ’s coming – both his first coming as a baby in Bethlehem and his second coming (or “second advent”) to rule and reign as the conquering King of all kings. Most of the time we neglect the second in light of the first. But the fact is that we are still waiting, that Christ will come again. And this is really good news for waiting people.

It sounds a little strange, but the pre-Christmas season is a time to remember once again that judgement is coming. It’s east to think only of the first coming of Jesus, but we need to let our hearts be arrested once again by the sobering reality that he will come to reign once again as the righteous Judge. This life as we know it is only temporary, and true life is still to come.

I think judgement gets misunderstood quite a bit in our time because it is seen as predominantly negative. But God’s judgment will be a good and glorious thing because it means the restoration of all things, liberation from the curse of sin forever, the institution of God’s righteous rule every sphere of life. Evil will not have the last word. Judgement won’t be all about casting evil into fiery depths (although that is part of it).
The King will come to reign and there will be peace and joy an safety and no more death.

Yes, judgement is terrifying to those with no hope, with no robes of righteousness to cover their rags (Is. 61:10, Matt. 22:12). But for those in Christ judgement is a glorious thing. Why? Because we have been judged already in Christ. Christ has taken our punishment and our judgment upon himself. We don’t have to fear judgement because for us it has already taken place on the cross. All that’s left for us is to welcome God’s coming because we know we stand beneath the righteousness of the Perfect One who was judged on our behalf.

The second advent of Christ stands in such a contrast to the first, and yet it will be the culmination of what began in Bethlehem. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote:

The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s son and our God, was in obscurity; the second will be in the sight of the whole world. When he came in obscurity no one recognized him but his own servants; when he comes openly he will be known by both good people and bad. When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged; when he comes openly it will be to judge. 

The first advent of Christ was in a lonely corner of the world and was known to few. His second advent will be in the sight of all the world, and there will be no question about his kingship.

So in this season, I invite you to take time not only to look back to the stable and the anticipation of the Messiah’s birth, but to look forward with anticipation for the restoration of all things, the Great Wedding Feast, and the reign of the King of Righteousness. It gives his first coming a whole new meaning when we remember that the Baby born in a manger isn’t just a cute story that we tell every year. He was born for a purpose, born to live and die and rise victorious over sin and death… But that is not the end. He will return with radiance and glory to reclaim his bride and his whole creation. We stand in the in-between of the two Advents, and every year at this time we remember we have much to look forward to. God’s story is unfolding –and the best is yet to come. The birth of the Christ-child is beautiful, but it is just the beginning of his plan of redemption.

Advent 2: What Were We Waiting For?

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Welcome to week 2 of Advent, the season of waiting. In this series of posts, I’m going to explore a little bit about this curious little season of the year just before one of the best times of the year (Christmas).

The crazy thing about Advent is that it is separate from Christmas in that it is a celebration of waiting for Christ (Christmas is the celebration of Christ coming). So as much as we need to slow down at Christmas time, in Advent we actually slow ourselves…in order to wait for Christ. Go figure.

There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the most important is that we want to put ourselves in the place of the waiting world that Christ was born into. We bring ourselves once again into the place where we acknowledge our need for the Savior to invade our darkness. Just like the people of Israel had become numb, distant, hopeless, and uninterested, so we can drift in our dependence on God. We need a Savior to come, we need him to invade our lives in fresh ways. Those moments when God shines a piercing light through the blackness of the night are what we are waiting for.

It’s easy to skip over the context of the event that shook the world in that little town of Bethlehem and get right to the story. But those blank pages in between the testaments represent a long period of waiting for God to speak, to act, to do anything really, that would prove he was still there. The long-awaited Messiah was supposed to come, supposed to unite the people of God and restore Israel’s former glory. But there was silence. There was nothing but waiting for over four hundred years. That was darkness.

But into the darkness a Light came, but it wasn’t the light that many expected. Israel expected a king, a ruler, a warrior who would break the bonds of the evil oppression of Rome and set up Israel as a political superpower. But the King they got was a baby, born in a stable, who lived a life of relative obscurity until his final days of ministry. Even then he was rejected by many as a lunatic.

Isn’t that true of us as well? We wait and expect God to deliver us in some grandiose way, to break through and BOOM! all of our problems are gone. But instead he comes in the quiet, in the little things, in the mess and disarray of crying babies and carpentry.

So in this Advent season, I encourage you to look for Christ to come once again into your darkness, and maybe in unexpected ways. Waiting in line at the store – is it a gift? What about traffic? What about the simple beauty of the Christmas songs you’ve heard a million times? We can find him in our waiting.

But…How do you expect the unexpected? I’m not sure, but I think it starts by opening ourselves to God in the little things, and by not hurrying ourselves away from waiting. Don’t drive so hard to the destination that you miss the journey. The journey is filled with all kinds of beauty and blessing. It’s like I read recently, waiting isn’t wasted if we wait with Faith. Look for him, and find him in the waiting.

Advent 1: Who Hates to Wait?

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Who likes to wait? Not me, I can tell you that for sure. I want my answers, my results, my dinner and my coffee and I want it five minutes ago. Patience isn’t something that comes easily for most people.

This past Sunday marked the first Sunday of the season of Advent, the beginning of the church year. You might recognize the term “advent” from the little cardboard calendars that give you a piece of candy every day during the month of December. But Advent is much more than candy. This four-week season leading up to Christmas dates back as far as the 8th century and focuses on the coming of Christ, both in the celebration of the Nativity and in the anticipation of the coming reign of Christ. The word advent literally means “arrival,” and the season is marked by themes of waiting, expecting, anticipating.

I must confess that I find myself pulled in two directions by this brief season. One side of me wants to slow down and detach from the busyness and chaos that inevitably marks the weeks prior to Christmas and to meditate on Christ’s coming to earth and being born in a manger. I want to get all I can out of Christmas by celebrating Christmas during Advent. But technically the focus of Advent is on anticipation itself, the absence of Christ and the desire that he would come and invade our darkness. It’s almost as if we put ourselves in the place of the waiting world in the hours before the angels announced the Savior’s birth.
This forced wait is tricky because we know the Good News: Christ has come and invaded the darkness and shown the light. But there is a “not yet” part to the story as well because it’s also true that Christ has yet to come and apply the fullness of redemption to the hurting world. So we wait.

Now, waiting is no fun I’ll admit, but if we honestly take a look at it we might realize there is some good to it. We live in a culture infatuated with the instant – we love to get everything we want whenever we want it. We all have the friend or relative that is really hard to buy gifts for because they get what they want whenever they want it. They aren’t waiting for anything.

But think about the joy that comes from waiting. When I was young I couldn’t wait for Christmas Morning…then to get out of high school…then out of college…then married…then…the list could go on. It would have been an awful bore to have Christmas every day. I think C. S. Lewis got it right when he said that joy is found in the desire for the thing we long for, no just the thing itself. We actually diminish our joy if we never have to wait.

Have you ever denied yourself something on purpose? This is what the church calls fasting, although it tends to slow things down quite a bit. Saying no to sugar or TV or meat for a while is hard because we want what we want. But oh the sweetness of that steak after the season of waiting.

So let me encourage you to give waiting a chance this Advent season. Don’t rush into the season, pressing your foot so far to the floor that you speed right by all the good stuff. Let waiting be a blessing, knowing that the joy of desire fulfilled is promised to come.