When I was a kid, each Christmas Eve at my house replayed the same scenario. After the candlelight service at church and the annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, my older brother and I would pitch camp on his bunk bed and stay awake as long as our sleepy eyes would let us.
Our enduring goal in life was to catch our parents in the act of setting out our Christmas gifts and steal the first available glance at that new bike or pair of rollerblades. (We only caught them once — the result was highly anti-climactic as they immediately ushered us back to bed. At least we tried.) But regardless of our track record for failure, each year we would stay up nearly all night long, eyes glued to the ticking clock, whispering about the gifts that we knew we would find awaiting us in the morning.
That night felt like the longest of the entire year, counting down the seconds until our Christmas hopes would be fulfilled. The moment the sun came streaming through the window, we would tear through the house, waking everyone with our shouts of victory.
Christmas had finally arrived.
As an adult, Christmas doesn’t quite possess the same magical quality that it did during childhood. We still wait with anticipation, but typically for things that we know won’t magically appear under the tree. We enter into the Christmas season carrying with us an unrealized dream or a hope deferred for now. We hold in our hands the loss or disenchantment or yearning for more that another year on earth has gifted us.
I know so very few people who aren’t earnestly waiting or desperately longing for something. We’ve been praying for the dawn for what feels like an eternity, and we’re weary from looking at the clock, passing the time, wondering when our hopes will finally become reality.
So what does celebrating Christmas look like for the heart that is tired? For the one who has been tested and pushed to his limits this year? The one with an eager eye trained on the horizon, watching for the arrival of something oh so precious to her soul? For the weary, the waiting, and for each one of us, an invitation is being offered in the form of Advent.
Advent, meaning the arrival or coming of Christ, reminds the longing heart that to wait with anxious expectancy isn’t just human, it’s holy. Since the moment Eve took a bite of that toxic fruit, every person after her has been waiting, watching, and yearning for the day when every wrong will finally be made right. Our imperfect soul is begging the One who designed it to lean down low and do some re-tuning.
But the fixing doesn’t come instantly. Each day we watch things in our world break, and we lift them up to our Maker with open palms. And we wait for restoration.
In the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Advent gives meaning to our waiting. It gives us permission to acknowledge the tender places and incompletion in our lives. It sits with us in the silence as the weight of grief sinks in. It recognizes the reality of unfinished chapters in our stories and the long suffering nature of waiting. Just waiting.
And then, Advent whispers a promise in our ear. It gently nudges us to lift our head and look up from our clenched fists. It tells us to get ready. Slowly, hope begins to take root in our heart, broken though it may be.
Advent tells us a story of Someone who is coming to mend, to restore, to put our waiting to an end. When God decided to put on human skin and visit us in the form of a baby, He gave us a glimpse of the complete, uninhibited relationship with Him that’s still to come. So as we learn to wait with anticipation in the days leading up to Christ’s birth, we learn the meaning of waiting for Him to come again, for a complete and total union that will never be undone.
So this Advent season, let’s wait with meaning. Like a people who, though bruised from a world in crisis, have known the closeness of our Saviour. Even more, let’s wait with hope. The hope that comes from knowing that our every need may not arrive today, but that our waiting isn’t in vain. This story isn’t over, the day hasn’t dawned. But her first rays are appearing on the horizon, and the celebration that comes in the morning is just around the corner.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Methos04.