christmas-gift

The Gift of Advent

The other day, I was standing in worship service singing one of my favorite worship songs, “In Christ Alone,” and something dawned on me: Singing that song felt different than it had when I sang it years before. When I was single and sang, In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song … I remember feeling utterly desperate, almost clingy. At that point, I had at least one tangible unanswered hope…the hope of a spouse.

Then, shortly after Christmas eight years ago, I met the man who would be my husband, and we married that same year. A hope that had been front and center throughout my twenties had been fulfilled. And as the years have progressed, and we’ve had children and established a home, there is sweetness in that fulfilled hope. Perhaps that is why, although I still love the song, it now hits a new note in my soul—hope fulfilled rather than hope deferred.

That’s not to say that ache I felt when I was single isn’t still there. Several longings have been satisfied, but I feel keenly that all is not right with the world. I see people dying long before they should. I see sick children, broken families, aging loved ones, single friends who have waited too long for someone to share life with. That inescapable feeling that something is really wrong with this world prompted one friend to proclaim the following on social media:

Does anyone else feel that sense of emptiness? That no amount of TV or social media or internet or buying stuff or holidays or love interest or travel or money or knowledge or friends or child or activity…can solve the problem that gnaws away at you every day? I think we unconsciously know how sick our species and this planet really are and all our attempts to escape that reality are starting to show their superficiality and ultimate meaninglessness.

Aching. You don’t have to live here long to realize that the things of this world are empty and can all be lost in an instant. Pretty depressing, right? That’s where Advent comes in. Advent, the four Sundays preceding Christmas, traditionally symbolizes a season of expectation and anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth. In her blog post “The Ache of Advent,” Holly Packiam writes:

Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us in touch with our anticipated joy at His return. Advent is a joy that helps us hope.

Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.

What unfulfilled hopes grip your heart this Advent season? Maybe you long for a spouse, or a child, or restored relationships. Maybe you or someone you love need a miraculous healing. Maybe you’re just weary of the violence, madness and sickness of this broken world.

Advent is about embracing those longings and feeling all “the feels,” knowing that God’s got this. Jesus’ entrance into a dark, broken world (ancient Israel wasn’t a bowl full of cherries, either) signaled the start of God’s miraculous plan to restore all things and wipe away every tear. Without a “weary world” there is no “thrill of hope.”

Yes, this world is absolutely broken. But because Jesus was born as a baby, lived a sinless life, and died and rose again, there is absolute hope. One day He will set the world right again. This turnaround will be so stunning in nature that Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). These times, as hard as they may be, cannot even be measured on the same scale as the joys that are to come!

When I look back on my years of singleness and waiting for a spouse, they feel shadowy now. But one thing I do not forget is the preciousness of that season of waiting. Inseparable from the ache and the angst and the unknowns, was a deep confidence that God was at work, that He had a master plan, and that He loved me. Perhaps that is one of the best gifts of Advent—the opportunity to exercise complete dependence on the One who brought light into the darkness and promises that the best is yet to come.