My First Advent

I have a confession to make: I’m a pretty horrible Presbyterian.

I grew up in a non-Presbyterian church that didn’t really follow a “church calendar” outside of an annual summer revival series (can I get an AMEN?) and an epic Vacation Bible School that could not possibly have been a vacation for the volunteers who put it on.  Sure, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but the more important calendar was the Wednesday night dinner calendar.  Only a fool would miss the monthly fried chicken night.

As a result of my upbringing, I don’t know the slightest thing about the church calendar and often find myself saying “what?!! ANOTHER special Sunday?!! What is it this time?! Presbyterians!!!!”

Clearly, I don’t have a clue.

So when David asked me a few months ago for suggestions on how to make this year’s Advent season more exciting, I made the perfectly logical suggestion of cutting its length in half or skipping it all together. “Why do we have to prepare for Jesus’s birth for so many weeks?” I said. “He was already born.  It seems a little unnecessary.”

After collecting his jaw off the floor, David earnestly explained the importance of the season of hope, of waiting, of anticipation.

I laughed and shook my head as if to say you poor misguided fool.  

“There is literally no suspense in this story.  IT ALREADY HAPPENED.  Why the anticipation?”

He didn’t ask for any more Advent advice.

Resigned, I settled in for another season of ritual prayers, inward scoffing, and a pervasive sense of guilt about my lack of enthusiasm.

And yet? This year, despite my opposition to Advent candles (fire traps!) and moving closer to Bethlehem (while staying in the same place) and anticipating something that ALREADY HAPPENED, I got Advent-y.  The most Advent-y I’ve ever been.

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Here’s what happened: I did my first-ever Advent themed Bible study. And although I have been a week behind the entire time (Jesus will be born in a few days…I’m getting excited!) it has actually been really, really cool.

I like the Bible.  I’ve read it in its entirety, I believe it all fits together and that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.  I’ve believed it for years.

But now, I’ve experienced it in a new way.

I’ve read a prophecy in the Old Testament that corresponds with an occurrence in the New Testament.  I’ve read parallels: God’s frustration with our sin and His love for us regardless.  His calling us out, desiring for us to repent, and the sacrifice and solution that enables us to return to Him.  His telling that something was coming and His sending of that something.

And instead of rushing through it…I’ve savored it.  I’ve maintained a slow pace corresponding with the season.  The season of anticipation.

You see, right now, I’m in a waiting season myself.  And my tendency is to rush, rush, rush.  I hate waiting.  I want to get directly to the outcome and know what happens.

But in the rushing, you miss the beauty of anticipation.  And that means you miss the full gift…the full joy.

When you read the scriptures slowly, you feel the build up.  You feel the darkness that they lived in, the inevitable entanglement of a sinful world that tries to stamp out everything good and destroy us all and you think, will this darkness win? And when I look at our world sometimes…I feel the same way.

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But their story doesn’t end there.  Like I said, there is build up—not to destruction, but to good news:

“See, darkness covers the earth
   and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
   and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

No longer will violence be heard in your land,
   nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
   and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
   nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
   and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your days of sorrow will end.  (Isaiah 60:1-3, 18-20)

I’ve read this scripture before.  But this time, after weeks of anticipation, a strange thing happened.  I felt the excitement that Simeon and Anna felt when they realized, FINALLY.  He has come.  FINALLY.  This world is redeemed.  We are made right again.  Sin is defeated and we are free. FINALLY.

It was all I could do not to jump up and down.  In fact, I raised my hands in the air, shouted “Praise Jesus” and laughed out loud over my coffee.  (I told you I didn’t grow up Presbyterian.)

You see, all this time I thought I knew the end of the story.  But what I really knew was the beginning.

Advent reminds me that He has come once.  That He has fulfilled His promises once…and that He will continue to fulfill His promises because that is what He does and who He is.  Advent reminds me that I no longer wait alone…that He has come, that He is here, God with us.  That I have a living hope.

And so instead of rushing through my season of waiting, I choose to sit in anticipation with Emmanuel by my side.  Instead of groaning about the waiting, I am ready to be built in the waiting.  Instead of doubting in the waiting, I beg for the faith of those who have gone before me.  Instead of anxiety, I choose trust.  Instead of running through worst-case scenarios, I patiently and joyfully anticipate His provision.

I choose the fullest joy possible.  I choose the gift.

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“Joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God…He keeps every promise forever.”–Psalm 146:5-6

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