I originally wrote this post back in 2009. I’m reposting it today, with a few edits, as we again enter into the season of Advent. Maybe you’ve never really thought about or understood what Advent was all about. Just as it was once an important part of the church cycle when it began, there is still much valuable to this time of year for us.
Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power. –Robert Webber, Ancient Future Time
We’ve again come to the time of year known as the season of Advent, which comes from the Latin adventus, meaning arrival or coming. Advent has traditionally been a season when people slow down and take time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. To identify with the longing and hope of a coming Messiah.
Many religious traditions choose not to sing songs of Christ’s birth until Christmas Day since Advent is not a time of joy, but of longing for the coming of the Savior. The celebration would then begin on Christmas Day and last for the 12 days until the Day of Epiphany on Jan 6.
But to truly capture the essence of Advent is to realize it is about much more than just getting ready to celebrate Christ’s birth by making sure the shopping is done and the food is prepared.
The Scriptures that we read at this time (like in Isaiah 7 and 9) and the characters and context of the story reveal some huge themes. Israel was not just looking for the birth of a baby, but for the very redemption of their nation, people, and status. They wanted a fresh display of God’s power as they remembered from the days of Moses.
Considering the longing and expectation that the people of Israel felt makes me consider those things on a bigger scale. The main themes of Israel’s longing (the coming of a king to (re)establish the kingdom and redeem his people) are not something we can get away from today. We, as Christians, look toward the second coming. The desire to see and experience God in a new way is something that many want. Yet, just as most of the Israelites missed the first coming because of complacency, sin, and no longer expecting it, many of us miss God working around us.
What is it about expectation that is so important? What is it about longing for something that is so captivating? It’s been said that the having is not nearly as pleasing as the wanting. Why is it that often the longer we have to wait, the more the desire diminishes?
Consider biblical examples of expectation where people waited and persevered for something great, even when it seemed it might never come. Simeon waited for years serving in the temple to see the Christ child as God promised. The disciples waited in the Upper Room for the promised Holy Spirit.
The theme of expectation continues to challenge me because many Christians don’t expect much in life anymore, even though God has promised some awesome stuff. Jesus told His disciples that where two or three are gathered in His name, that He would be there, too. He told the disciples before He ascended to heaven that He would never leave them.
Do we enter into a time of worship with the expectation that God will reveal and show Himself to us? When we gather with others who have the Holy Spirit, do we expect it to be special, or just another way we could spend our time that is little different than going to Rotary Club? What would happen if we anticipated God showing Himself in our midst corporately because we had already experienced His presence during the week?
Israel’s longing for God’s presence was because they felt He was far away. The very activity that was designed to renew them each time they did it, worship, had become a dead ritual. Yet when God did show up, the Israelites usually weren’t really ready to hear or obey. Expectation involves obedience. Expectation involves waiting, but also looking forward to and anticipating His arrival. When God breaks in, we should be prepared, as Mary was, to do what God asks us to do.
During this Advent season and beyond, may we come with an expectation to encounter God. May we also leave with a confident expectation that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. May we not miss out because we don’t understand and haven’t cared for sin in our lives.
Are you longing for something of God in your life? If so, what is it?
The Israelites missed the first coming of Christ. Are we missing the continual presence of Christ? Are we on track to be caught unaware of the second coming of Christ?
The season of Advent exists as a way to remind us, in the midst of busy lives and worried minds, that God is still with us. That He brings new and fresh things into our lives as we live with Him. Through waiting and worshiping, let’s remember and be restored this year.
All honor to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is by his boundless mercy that God has given us the privilege of being born again. Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3 NLT)
>>For a more thorough exploration of Advent, its significance, and its meaning, it recommend this post from Mark D. Roberts, former pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church: What Is Advent? An Introduction to Advent.