Advent: The Season of Waiting"May this Advent season be a time to focus afresh on the joyful anticipation of the miraculous coming of Jesus for you and yours."
Preparation is one of our greatest expressions of love. It’s true for every opportunity of hospitality in the home or the church. The better prepared we are for our guest’s arrival, the more at home everyone feels. If we are rushed, moving swiftly won’t create the ambiance we want to provide physically, spiritually or relationally. Every guest knows if preparation for their arrival has been thoughtfully considered… or not.
Preparation impacts every relationship we have. For example, has kettle season so consumed you that you haven’t had time to prepare for special family gatherings? Have evenings been consumed by church programs to the point that family and friends are neglected? Has the pace of life kept you from preparing your own heart for the coming of the Christ child once more?
Advent is the name given to this season of the year and it’s honored by Christians worldwide. It’s the season of preparation for the greatest sign of affection God chose to give to His beloved followers: His Son, Jesus. It’s the beginning of the Church calendar, so as we turn the pages of time toward the commencing of the greatest story ever told, our hearts embrace the truth of this miracle of goodness and grace.
Advent is the season for preparing our hearts for the Incarnation, the miraculous arrival of the Christ child. Foretold for generations by the prophets of old, it has finally come to fruition in a stable in Bethlehem. Therefore, to rush into Christmas is to miss a sacred opportunity to prayerfully and lovingly prepare for the coming of Jesus into this broken and needy world. It took God generations to fulfill. Perhaps we should honor the coming of Jesus with a bit of a slower pace, a growing sense of anticipation, so our hearts will be refreshed anew.
For the four Sundays that precede Christmas Day, we travel the same roads back to the manger and the first Advent of Jesus (the word “advent” is a derivative of the Latin word advenio, which means coming or arrival). Since it’s actually the “new year” of the Church calendar, it offers us a fresh start to our life of faith and worship. Our dear Lord Jesus is on His way, as the Gospels remind us, and His coming is a marvel to behold. How prepared and hospitable do we wish to be this time around?
In many homes and churches, Advent calendars, devotionals and wreaths are used to mark the days and/or Sundays of the season. Advent calendars and devotionals usually highlight the days until Christmas with inspirational thoughts, Bible verses or suggested ideas for reflection and celebration. Advent wreaths have candles representing each of the four Sundays, signifying Prophecy (week one), Bethlehem (week two), Shepherds (week three) and Angels (week four). One special candle in the center of the wreath is lit on Christmas Day, in celebration of Jesus’ birthday.
Advent is followed in the Church year by the primary seasons of Epiphany (the coming of the Magi to the Christ child), Lent (commemorating the life, teaching and ultimate passion of Jesus in His crucifixion, death and resurrection) and Pentecost (the Ascension of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Church). Each season is similarly designed for our spiritual growth and discipleship, as we collectively follow the footsteps of Jesus and the beginnings of the Church on an annual basis.
Thankfully, Jesus’ miraculous incarnation was not a second thought or a back-up plan in the heart of God. From the dawn of time, this was the promised and perfectly fulfilled plan of Almighty God. As darkness breaks forth into a new day of light, so does the arrival of Jesus dispel the darkness of this world by the infusion of good news. We follow the Advent pathway with gratitude, honor and peace-drenched anticipation of the dawning of Christmas joy.
All of this is in prayerful, grateful and joyful anticipation of the Second Advent of Jesus, when He comes again in magnificent splendor, majesty and glory. Then the things of this world, including our annual journeys to the manger, will be fond memories of times past. Then we will share eternity together as the family of God with our glorified Christ Jesus, Who will have prepared for us a place in His heavenly Kingdom forever.
Until that great day of magnanimous joy, the seasons of the Church year will keep our hearts aflame with the light of His incarnation, joining our embrace of His cross-centered redemption and the unconditional gift of salvation and eternal life. The Christian year is our annual reminder of the full cycle of God’s manifest presence in our shared history, in our world today, and in our hearts as God’s beloved children.
How do we prepare our hearts for the Incarnation this Advent season? If we don’t want to feel like it’s a “same-old, same-old” Christmas, then it might be time to embrace four major themes of Advent preparation: waiting, watching, wondering and worshiping. These will be much more meaningful than shopping, wrapping, decorating and collapsing once Christmas has come and gone.
No one likes to wait. We all want the fastest line in the grocery store. We work hard to finish first. We compete, compare and contrast just about everything and everybody we know. Waiting is not our first choice. But, I guarantee: waiting is really good for our soul. Choosing to wait until others go in front of us; or determining to walk at the pace of the slowest member of the group; or simply deciding to wait on a big decision until the way forward is clearer. Waiting until the wind blows or the Spirit moves or the line shortens or the oldest, feeblest or weakest is served first, is all really good for our soul. Notice what healthy waiting provokes in your level of patience, kindness and good will toward others. Then, purpose to have a waiting posture throughout Advent, in anticipation of celebrating the humble birth of our loving Messiah.
In Advent, we wait hopefully for the Incarnation of Jesus.
The gift of noticing needs to be practiced. Like waiting, watching is not something we naturally prefer. We like living on a bullet train, moving as fast as possible through every terrain of life’s geography. But, on a bullet train, all you see is blurred views of the landscape. To truly enjoy that landscape, one needs to exit the train, stop running, and simply notice. Watching the beauty of creation, the turning of the seasons, the clouds in the sky, the grass under our feet, the person in our midst, all takes concerted effort and prayerful attentiveness. When we are watching our immediate environment, we are preparing for what comes next. We hold a child in our lap and we whisper in their ears, we watch them play and we are filled with joy. Like the prophets of old, we watch for the coming of Jesus to rescue, restore and renew us for His glory.
In Advent, we watch expectantly for the Incarnation of Jesus.
Childlike wonder is a delight to behold. Wondering at the beauty of a sunset or the majesty of a mountain silhouette, the rushing of a river or the gift of a spacious conversation with a loved one. All of these experiences evoke a sense of wonder in our hearts and souls. When is the last time you noticed with wonder a surprise encounter of compassionate grace, or the wonder of beauty in the eyes of a bride on her wedding day? Capturing wonder in images and words brings forth the blessings of God generously offered to His loved ones. Advent is filled with wonder and joy, and to miss it is to miss the essence of this time of year. Jesus came to offer us myriad gifts of tenderness and compassion, for us and for all we are called to serve in His name. Let’s receive His blessings with a growing sense of wonder, gladness and joy.
In Advent, we wonder delightfully in the Incarnation of Jesus.
In our prayer closets and in our sanctuaries, we are invited to worship the Christ child with ever increasing joy. In worship, we ponder anew what God has done in the history of the world and in the Church, in our modern world, our households and even in our hearts. Advent and Christmas void of worship leads us to rely upon Santa Claus, reindeers, fancy cookies and twinkling lights as our inspiration. Advent is a season of worship and reflection, deep and profound consideration of our life with God, and what the coming of Jesus into this world means to each and every soul. We sing of His goodness, we preach and proclaim His kindness, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and willing to be witnesses to His with-ness on Christmas Day. Our worship is our proclamation of Jesus and the hope He offers to our world.
In Advent, we worship attentively on the Incarnation of Jesus.
May this Advent season be a time to focus afresh on the joyful anticipation of the miraculous coming of Jesus for you and yours. Prepare your own heart as you prepare to invite others into your household and enjoy the celebrations of Christmas once more. Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing … the wonders of His love!
Illustration by Matt Chinworth | This article was published in the December 2023 issue of The War Cry.