This week marks the first week of Advent. Now, before I married a Presbyterian, I confess I’d never really given Advent much of a thought. Oh, I knew that it had to do with looking forward to Jesus’ birth, but I didn’t know much more about it than that, really. Now, however, I’m a part of a church and a tradition that deliberately observes this joyous season in the liturgical calendar. For Presbyterians (as well as many Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists), the four weeks before Christmas are a season full of expectation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of the Christ child.
Because Advent is by its very nature a time of waiting, I think it offers a ready-made opportunity to ponder where our hearts are at and what they’re hoping and waiting for. And no matter where we’re at in life, we’re almost always waiting and hoping for something.
When I was young, the Christmas season was a time of agonizing, tormenting waiting. My Grandma Roberts was always extraordinarily conscientious about her Christmas shopping. Sometimes she had it all done by the end of October. As soon as Halloween was over, her Christmas tree went up. And underneath it sat all those presents for the grandkids, lovingly wrapped. I remember many, many years looking longingly at the gifts with my name on them — waiting and hoping she’d gotten me what I asked for. Each year, it seemed, my heart fixated on something that would, I thought, make my world complete, whether it was a Minolta Weathermatic A underwater camera or Coleco Electronic Quarterback or Kenner’s exquisite Millennium Falcon. (All of which, I just checked, are actually available on eBay right now. Hmmm…)
As I got older, my desires morphed and grew. Looking back at the last 20 years or so, from 20ish to 40ish, it seems as if the young adult years in particular are absolutely packed with waiting and longing. Indeed, much of what we hope for the most in life seems to get concentrated in a few short (or long!) years during our young adult pilgrimage.
We wait to find out if we’ve been accepted to the college we want. As those years zoom by, we begin to look forward with hopeful expectation to life in the “real world” with a “real job.” We wait for a spouse. Then kids. Then the desperate desire for those little ones to sleep through the night (which has been my own personal waiting crucible for the last five years). Then we wait to save up for a home big enough to hold us all.
For many of us, young adulthood is defined by those overlapping cycles of waiting and hoping. We’ve barely reached one milestone when our desires shift and we plunge into the next season of praying and longing. I’ll never forget one friend in college who longed to be married with every fiber of her being. Her hopes were fulfilled after we graduated, and very soon it became apparent that she yearned for children with the same intensity that she’d hoped for marriage. But she would face many years of infertility — and deep struggles with contentment — before that hope was granted as well. Her story illustrates how our young adult years can be a dizzying time of hopes continually deferred … even as some of them are fulfilled.
Which brings me back to the subject and season of Advent.
As I mentioned above, I think Advent offers us a perfect opportunity to entrust those churning movements of our hearts to God. After all, it’s a season in which we ponder what God set in motion with the birth of a tiny babe, a little person who would change everything … but not quite yet. Advent is by definition a season of anticipation and expectation.
As we move into Advent, what is your soul yearning for? God assures us that He knows the tender spots in our hearts. Amazingly, He actually waits for us to pour out the desires of our hearts to Him.
For what it’s worth, I don’t know that I’m much better at waiting at the age of 41 than I was back when Grandma Roberts lovingly tortured me with presents under the tree when I was young. I don’t like not having what I want. But I think it’s in these seasons that God does remarkable work in souls, showing us things about our own character and His that we might not have learned any other way.
Likewise, Advent reminds us that God brings all things to fulfillment at the proper time … and that we can trust Him with the desires of our hearts.