Now that we’re well into December, how’s it going for you? How’s the shopping, the wrapping, the cookie baking (and eating), the decorating? Will there be a point in which we will feel finished? On Christmas Day, will I be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor? Or will I still feel there was more I could have done, just one more thing, one more gift in the stocking or one more recipe that would have put us over the edge into Christmas bliss?
We are, most of us, in the midst of preparation. Whether we do all this to ourselves because of cultural expectations or whether there’s something deeper at work, I don’t know. What I do know is that the birth of Christ was such an earthshaking, pivotal point in history that Christ-followers have come to annually mark its significance. While this has looked different throughout history, we have embraced that such a momentous event warrants its own set-apart time of preparation.
The word advent, from the Latin adventus, means “arrival”. It refers not just to the arrival of an event, but also to its approach, its coming into view. The implication is that we can look ahead to a coming event with certainty of its arrival. Advent is like a toddler, nose pressed to the window, watching for Daddy’s car to swing into the driveway. It’s the knowledge that just over the horizon lies something amazing headed our way, and any second now it’s going to break through into our field of vision.
Remembering to Look
But sometimes I let the preparations get the better of me, and I forget to look. With years of celebrations under my belt, I take Christmas for granted. I forget that there was ever a time we didn’t have the Christ child with us. I don’t look out the window of my soul with expectation. If I’m able to emerge from my busyness long enough, it’s only to see one more need to meet, one more task to complete.
And even if I manage to take care of the little needs, the needs of the world press in close behind. Pleas come daily in the mail. The Salvation Army bell ringers are reminding us at the grocery store. Then there’s San Bernardino and Syria and Paris and sex trafficking victims and homeless people downtown and the souls crying for mercy and justice across our shattered globe and our minds can hardly process all this need set right in the middle of our preparations.
We wonder why we keep going. We wonder if it’s worth it.
We wonder, is there really a Savior on the horizon?
This week I’m going to take my seat in a community choir and sing (ahem, attempt to sing) Handel’s Messiah. We’re doing the whole shebang, with guest soloists and a bunch of us who will make up in enthusiasm what we lack in skill. The opening lines – the very first lines uttered in G. F. Handel’s two-hour masterwork – are from Isaiah 40:
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God;
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem;
And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned…
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
The prophet Isaiah wrote those words thousands of years ago to a Jewish people who would be exiled from their homeland, in need of the comfort of God’s promises. But like so much of Scripture, there’s a double meaning. Isaiah is foretelling the birth of Christ; he assures us that One is coming who will clear away the warfare raging daily around us. Human life is full of warfare, seen and unseen. We feel this. We feel it in the crush of our own busyness. We feel it in the presence of the 6:00 news and the endless debate over gun control and the endless stream of human suffering.
But yet… Isaiah tells us not once, but three times within one verse, that our Comforter is coming. Can we choose to remember that He already came? As a baby, and then as a warrior who wiped away the bulk of our warfare by His death on the cross?
And can we remember that He’s coming one more time, for good?
Like toddlers with our noses pressed to the glass, we can look for an event we know is just over the horizon. Our Comforter is coming to us! Do you see His light breaking over the world? He is coming. Prepare your hearts! Clear away the debris of doubt, clear the clutter of confusion and make a straight highway for Him. Our Christ child has come, is come, and will be coming, and we are comforted.