Between Two Comings: Watching and Waiting

This is an article that I wrote for my church newsletter this year. It's about Advent, and since today is the first Sunday of Advent, I thought some of you might enjoy reading it. As we go into this season of waiting, I hope that you will be filled with the hope of the promises of God... When I was little, it seemed like Christmas never came. My brother and I used to practice (usually in the middle of the summer) waking each other up for Christmas morning. There was a specific technique. One of us would lie down on a couch or handy bed and close our eyes, and the other would rush in (speed was important) and say “Itʼs Christmas, itʼs Christmas!” and shake the other one awake. We wanted to be ready.

Even though Iʼm older, it still seems that Christmas takes a long while to come. Not only that, it feels like I do a lot of waiting. I pray and wait for a response, I look forward to things that I hope for in the future and I stew impatiently when Iʼve ordered something on the internet or when I am heating a cup of tea in the microwave. Some kinds of waiting are easier than others.

Though we celebrate the season of Advent now in only the four weeks before Christmas, (the season itself can range from 22 to 28 days, depending on the placement of Sundays) the Israelites waited much longer. For generations, they cried out to God, longing for Him to send the promised Messiah. For generations, they saw no sign of the fulfillment of that hope. We feel the gentle tension of a season of waiting; they groaned in agony over the suffering of their people, their families, and themselves.

Advent has several levels of meaning. Historically, we remember the pain of the Israelites and the long years of wondering if the Messiah would come, as well as the marvelous joy (and fear and trembling and misunderstanding) which occurred when God became incarnate inside the womb of a virgin. We also consider where we stand in human history, between the comings of Jesus. We know that He has come and we cling to His promise to come again. Like the children of Israel, we look around at the suffering in the world, we see the broken relationships and the depravity and we wonder when He will come. Like them, we cry out to Him and ask Him to hasten His arrival.

I feel these things all year, but in Advent, they are heightened. I think it must be a little like a couple who wants to have a child, they pray and hope and long for this baby and prepare the best that they can, but when a pregnancy begins, all the emotions are heightened, suddenly everything seems real and impending. Prayers become more concrete and hope has a clearer goal.

As we approach the goal, Christmas, anticipation grows. One of my favorite parts of this season is the Advent wreath. As Christ, the Light of the World, comes closer, we light more candles. There are three purple candles, representing penitence and royalty, One rose-colored candle to represent joy and a white candle in the center of the wreath to represent Christ. The five candles, all lit together at Christmas form a cross and foreshadow the sorrowful joy of what was to come, in Christʼs death as a sacrifice for our sins. It is as if these candles represent the light at the end of the tunnel and as we grow closer, we are bathed in more and more radiant light. In some ways, it is this reminder that we are in the home stretch that builds the anticipation, giving us strength for the rest of the journey. We can take courage as we see the day approaching.

In reading about Advent recently, I am reminded of the struggle between wanting to sing and wanting to groan. We ponder the excitement of Jesus coming into the world to save it, and we want to sing, then we look around at the world around us, in desperate need of saving, and want to groan in prayer. I think that both of these responses are appropriate to the season and can bear fruit in the lives of those who are open to what waiting and watching have to teach. While this season is a time of frenzy for many of us, as we try to prepare to celebrate and enter into the fullness of joy of the Christmas season, I encourage you to stop for a few moments each day and feel the anticipation and the longing and the complicated emotions of Advent. Allow yourself to be excited about and anxious for Christʼs return and remind yourself that He is the true reason that we wait, then, now and always.