The days before Christmas too often whisk by us with hardly a moment for contemplation. The commercial season muddles the spiritual season, and before we have had a chance to sort through the difference, the season is half gone. Once again it is too late to hang the Advent calendar or light the candles on the Advent wreath. Next year, we say, we will truly use the season of Advent as a marvelous prelude to Christmas.
My son was born on the first day of Advent. (His birthday is tomorrow.) During those cumbersome last days of pregnancy, our lives slowed nearly to a halt. Being fully nine months pregnant gave me existential insight into the expectancy of Advent.
We waited many years for our son to come to us. For years, I pleaded with God to bring about a miracle. Here, on the eve of Advent, I had in my body the evidence of God’s faithfulness; but the evidence was not yet in my arms to see and touch. The promise was surely fulfilled, yet the waiting was prolonged. As the Scriptures of Advent came to mind, I could agonize with Israel over waiting even one more day for the see-and-touch evidence that God’s word can be trusted.
True waiting is a steadfastness of hope in a God who keeps his word. The hard part is being steadfast when the evidence makes you out to be a fool. Surely there were those in Israel who felt that way: centuries passed, and there did not seem to be any point to continuing the traditional wait for the Messiah.
Waiting contrary to evidence is hard enough; waiting when the proof is at hand but not quite here can be agonizing. We must be always alert and ready, with our strength and enthusiasm gathered. Those in Israel who were convinced of God’s promise in spite of the evidence faced the tremendous challenge of maintaining a state of expectancy, fully convinced that this great thing would happen but not having even so much as a due date to go by.
Waiting expectantly and in readiness enables us to wait with joy. This would be an impossible task if we could not hope in God’s faithfulness and see around us the evidence of his activity on our behalf. While we maintain readiness, we can savor the glimpses of joy that come to us in our spirits as we imagine the event finally fulfilled, whether the baby in my arms or the Savior in the manger.
Because we live on this side of the cross, the waiting of Advent is easier for us than it was for Israel. It’s certainly easy to just skip over the waiting and go straight to the fulfillment. Preparing for Christmas is equated with greetings, gifts, parties and special programs rather than evaluating how well we wait.
But also because we live on this side of the cross and know what the final outcome will be, we can savor those moments of pondering the mystery of the incarnation. We can rejoice that the see-and-touch evidence did arrive. We can hold in our arms a newborn son and marvel that the mighty God came to us in such a fashion. We can rest our hearts on God’s faithfulness as we wait for his action when we face the unknown.
The story of Christmas begins with the drama of Advent, and Advent is incomplete without the mystery of waiting on God. We can share once again in Israel’s yearnings as we wait with expectancy, readiness and joy for the birth of the Savior.
• How do you keep from letting commercial seasons take over the spiritual seasons?