When asked why I chose Advent as one of my favorite seasons in the liturgical year, I replied that I appreciated the anticipation. Then, realizing what I had said and the truth of it, I considered how I also liked the set ending point of the anticipation. We are asking for Christ to come in a new way at Christmas and then He comes, December 25th, like clockwork. A definitive period of anticipation marked by a definitive end.
Life, however, is not like this.
Yet I have also come to realize that I am in the Advent of my life. Perhaps, however, we are always in an Advent. Maybe we are always saying, “Come, Lord Jesus” and hoping for a particular fulfillment. There is no definite end in sight, though. That which we long for and ardently desire isn’t simply four weeks away or even a year away. Instead, we wait and we hope. Even if it is clear that the Lord has a plan, it is eminently unclear how it will unfold. Will our desires be answered just as we long? Or will there be some circuitous, meandering path to fulfillment, realized only years later when we look back and can say that God answered, just behind a guise or beneath a veil.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.Psalm 27
Advent is a time of anticipation, diving headlong into our hopes and desires, while also ordering them anew. It is a time of preparation, reminding me that I must always be actively preparing to welcome Jesus, even while my heart is led to long for other, earthly things, good as they may be. If the Lord came tonight, like a thief, I would be saddened if my response must be, “I was simply waiting for you to give me this particular gift and then I was going to….” How much better to be always in a state of welcoming and preparing to make room.
These past few months I’ve been taking a class on the problem of suffering. The proposal is that as Christians, we must hold that God, being good, allows the suffering from which He can draw a greater good for us, which could not be arrived at without the suffering. From philosophers to novelists, we have wrestled with this experience of suffering coursing through humanity, trying to see how it is both a mystery and yet also a means to encountering God. After one evening of reading, I was forced to look at my life and say to myself, “Everything in my life is offered as a way to draw me nearer to the Lord.” It was almost unbelievable, as I gazed at aspects I wished were otherwise, longings left unfulfilled, and wondered why God couldn’t have caused me to grow in some other way apart from the soul-deep suffering. While left with no definitive, particular answer, there is a comfort in trusting that the Lord will make His plan known at some point between now and eternity, revealing to me the ways particular pains were offered as gifts.
If I can savor the small moments of anticipation, then surely I can learn to savor the monumental, life-long moments of anticipation, too. By nature I have always liked to save the best for last. My Halloween candy was eaten starting with the ones I didn’t like and slowly moving to my favorites. When opening mail, I tend to naturally save the handwritten letter or the exciting package to open last. If joy can be found here, in relatively mundane or quotidian experiences, then I can cultivate a similar perspective for my life. With God’s grace, I can look with eager longing toward the best things that are to come. I can lean into His generous mercy and hold His offered gifts lightly, with open hands ready to receive as much as ready to be emptied. Each day and each year can be a gradual moving toward a life lived with a heart accustomed to waiting and willing to see the beauty in anticipation with a definite end, just no definite date for the end.
May this Advent season be a time of recognizing how little we have under our control and how much goodness is to come our way. May our hearts be willing to receive the goodness, even when wrapped in sorrow, long-suffering, uncertainty, or hidden in a completely different package than expected. The Lord is coming and He is always faithful, always providing, and always working.
Come, Lord Jesus! Come!