Over the past couple of years, I have become beguiled by the beauty of the Christian Calendar (if you’re not familiar with the practice, here’s a great, quick introduction). Many churches observe the pinnacles of this tradition in Christmas and Easter. Others have expanded their observance by including Lent and Advent.
One of the Christian seasons many people are most familiar with is that of Advent. Traditionally the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, the theme is that of waiting. Waiting from the double perspective, first, the idea of the New Testament people of God waiting for the coming of Jesus and second, the Post-Cross people of God awaiting Jesus’ Second coming.
As the Old Testament closes, we have a 400 year period of God’s silence. Even before the close of the Old Testament, as God’s people languished in exile, they had already become accustomed to waiting. God had promised them that One would come who would crush the head of the serpent, be a true and better Prophet, Priest and King. And the Israelites find themselves in exile . . .
. . . 400 years . . .
And as the New Testament opens, the Jews find themselves under different oppressors but oppression is still oppression and waiting is still waiting. The people trusted God but the answer seemed dim at best. It’s like in Psalm 46:5 when the Psalmist says that God will be the help of the holy city “when the morning dawns”. But what do we do when it perpetually feels as though it’s 1:30am? We may believe that God will show up when the morning comes but what do we do when it feels like the morning is never coming?
A sense of waiting pervades Christianity. We trust in the future promises in the present because of His past faithfulness. He has shown Himself to be faithful. He has proven trustworthy. But He is not in a hurry. And his timing is not ours. This is the theme of Advent. We must trust in the waiting. We know that the darkness is not permanent. The morning will dawn. As Cheryl Bridges Johns says: “Advent asks us to sit a while in the darkness, waiting for the light of God.”
Over the course of this Advent season, I have been dwelling deeply on this sense of waiting and the hope which much see us through the waiting. I like in the Modern West. Christians long for Jesus’ Second coming but I’m not sure we can our waiting always translates into longing. In the West, most Christians live fairly comfortable lives and we don’t often identify with the need of rescue felt by the oppressed.
But I think that Scripture provides us with some insight into the true longing represented in the Advent season. Consider Romans 8:18-25:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This passage has meant a lot to me over the years but I don’t know that I’ve ever really dwelt deeply on one of its key ideas: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” Something about this recently laid me low. As of September 2016, there are 18,000 kids in the Arizona foster care system. 18,000 children waiting to for their home. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” Paul asks us to identify with those waiting to be adopted. This is the spirit of Advent.
And yet, on this side of the Cross, we do not wait or hope in vain. Christ has already delivered the firstfruits. His first Coming assures us of His second. As a parent of four adopted children, this imagery has brought new depth to Advent for me. Parentless children longing for promised-adoption, the homeless brought home, the far-off made family. Advent asks us to remember that the darkness will not last, the morning will dawn again because the Son has come.