the weight/wait of advent

It’s January, 2015. A new month. A new year.

And I’m still thinking about Christmas (In part because I still haven’t taken down my decorations, but mostly for other reasons).

DSC00602Actually, I’m thinking about Advent. But you can’t really think about Advent without thinking about Christmas. It’s like thinking about pregnancy without thinking about a baby, thinking about an engagement without thinking about a wedding. I’ve lived through 20-some Advents, but only a few have really stuck with me. I have a hunch that 2014 is going to be one of them.

November 30th I read a blog post that recognized the start of a new season:

Advent starts today. Advent is a time of expectant waiting. It is a time spent in trembling in anticipation of Jesus’ glory and its impact on the world. I’m the most excited I have ever been about Advent this year.

Earlier on, the post discussed some beautiful and challenging ideas surrounding the season of Advent and what it means to wait for the coming of Christ as we wait for the coming of Christmas. The writer described that during Advent there is a communal anticipation that charges the atmosphere around us:

I love Christmas so hard. It is the absolute best time of year…We as a human race are all being captivated by something at one time. We come together to decorate, celebrate and fellowship because we all see something big is happening.

The post challenged me to reconsider my perspectives and preparations. I had just finished my 30 days of Facebook Gratitude, and thought the season of Advent might warrant similar recognition. I opted for a daily practice of identifying the longing and waiting I saw in my life and in the world around me. I started with a post about two members of my church community who are waiting for healing in the midst of cancer. I continued to name a new person or group of people each day, committing to “waiting alongside them,” as they longed and hoped and prayed for jobs and justice and fertility and freedom, rain and restoration and healing and companionship. With each passing day, I felt the weight of empathy—the weight of the longing and waiting—grow heavier. In identifying desire, I identified absence, and often that absence was the evidence of a brokenness. I heard a member of my community describe it this way:

“As a collective culture we feel the weight of the world. We feel that things are not how they’re supposed to be.”

upsetThis is the notion that I lived with during Advent, a season that has typically been more celebratory than sober for me. I held in contrast the act of frosting sugar cookies and the image of a man with a piece of cardboard standing beside the freeway, the delight of sipping cocoa and listening to children sing Christmas carols and the memory of friends who have been grieving a miscarriage.
Abundance butted up against poverty, even in my own heart. I couldn’t not see the world’s brokenness, and I couldn’t not feel my own. I still decorated and celebrated and I took joy in the spirit of the season, but I also listened to and noticed and carried heartache with me. In some ways, it was the strangest, saddest Advent I have ever experienced.

And yet, it was also one of the best, at least in terms of preparing me for Christmas. I have perhaps never been as mindful of the world’s longings or as desirous for its deliverance. And to that end I have never been as ready for Christmas. This year’s celebration was not particularly flashy or eventful. The festivities themselves were probably not something I will remember. But this thing I will: That this Christmas I was not longing to open presents, offer toasts or feast on our family favorites (which are delicious, I assure you). This Christmas I was longing for Christ. And in the promise of Immanuel, the promise of a God who is with us, those longings were met.
O Come O Come Emmanuel
Right now, our restoration is in part and not whole. We are heavy with the need that is in and around us each day. But the weight of those longings is not ours to carry alone. At Christmas we remember the coming of Christ, the coming of a Hope who brings healing and promises restoration. He waits beside us and with us until the day when all things are made new.