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).
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.