I’ll be honest – I didn’t want Christmas to come this year.
The things that make the Christmas season so wonderful – anticipation, excitement, joy – don’t jive with a year that’s been characterized by struggle and loss and I’ve been looking for any possible opportunity to “opt out” of Christmas.
If I don’t play Christmas music, maybe the memories will be subdued.
If I leave the tree in the box this year, maybe the holiday won’t be so painful.
If I stay away from the stores, maybe I won’t be reminded of who I’m not buying gifts for this year.
But the reality is this: ignoring Christmas won’t stay its coming. Even if I refuse to acknowledge it, there will still be nativity scenes, peppermint mochas, It’s A Wonderful Life, and ugly sweaters.
And maybe that’s why I’m so captivated by the celebration of Advent this year. Because Advent gets me.
Advent acknowledges that there is pain and sorrow. That grandmas are claimed by cancer, that people we love reject and abandon us, that brains and bodies are wracked with illness, that sweet, smiling boys are murdered while riding their bikes, that racism manifests itself in state-sanctioned killings, that 12 million of our Syrian neighbors have been forced to flee their homes. There is a degree of lament that accompanies the celebration of Advent because all is not as it should be.
The meditative focus of the first week of Advent is hope. And if I need anything for Christmas this year, it’s hope. Advent means “expectation” and with that expectation comes hope. Hope that what is won’t always be.
But the reality of hope is that it is yet to be realized.
Waiting is inherent to hope.
I don’t know about you, but waiting just isn’t my thing. My patience level is just between that of a toddler and a driver with road rage in a traffic jam. I don’t like waiting for my food to come out of the microwave, let alone major life events. But Advent is a celebration of waiting.
Advent teaches us to wait well.
During Advent, we mourn with those who mourn, but we wait with hope, with eager anticipation that Someone is coming, who will make all things right. And that sort of hope won’t disappoint us (Romans 5).
Today for Advent, I read Isaiah 11, a prophetic profiling of the Messiah. Jesus is described as “a shoot” who “will come up from the stump of Jesse” , speaking to His kingly lineage. I believe the symbolism here is significant to Advent and the call to wait well. For there to be a stump, there has to be loss; something has to die or be cut down. Furthermore, the process that must take place for a new tiny tree to shoot from a dried up, dead stump is usually a long one. There is almost always a period of waiting in which anyone might begin to believe that cutting down the tree and leaving only a stump was a waste.
The waiting times of our life that usually follow disappointment very often feel like a waste, but the hope of Advent, the hope of Jesus, reminds us that the anguish of suffering, of waiting is never wasted.
On waiting, Joshua Roberie says, “Sometimes what God does in the waiting room of our lives is more important for our future than what we hoped He would have done in one of our “missed appointments.” Our part is to not figure out His path for us, but to trust Him while we’re on it…These situations often leave us with only a few tough options. We can focus on regret, run away from our problems by ignoring them, or we can look forward to the resurrection that is going to take place in our lives.”
During Advent, we train our hearts to wait well, to look forward to that resurrection, the coming of the shoot of Jesse who will turn all our mourning into dancing. Like Mr. Beaver, waiting for Aslan:
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight.
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death.
And when he shakes his mane, it will be spring again.
– C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
So, friends, whether we limp or leap our way towards Christmas, may we look ahead with expectant hearts. May the Advent season remind us, as Ann Voskamp so aptly says, “In Christ, your stump is not a stump. Whatever your stump is, that relationship, that mess, that situation, there is more. A shoot of hope can spring up from impossible places.”