Every year we come back again to Advent season–the anticipation of Christmas, the rush to buy presents, the seemingly innumerable gatherings and events, the tug on our heartstrings to give and serve the less fortunate. If you are like me, every year you fear Christmas might be swallowed whole by materialism, sales goals, busyness, or holiday fluff that is lacking in theological depth. I often wish that Christmas were not so closely tied to our nation’s economy and yearly calendar.
Yet there is value in a holiday (“holy day”) that comes the same time each year. This time is set apart to remember the anticipation of Jesus’ first coming, the Advent of Immanuel (“God with us”) on earth. So in the midst of our desires for stuff and the anxiety our holiday busyness incurs, where can we find the peace and joy that is supposed to be at the core of Christmas? How can we foster a sense of holy anticipation for God’s presence with us?
There is little we can do to change the hustle and bustle surrounding us at this time of year. It is thoroughly ingrained in our society at this point. However, we can let it be a reminder that all of creation groans for the coming of Jesus Christ. In our society’s continual want for more and more stuff lies a desire for the true God, the true fulfillment of their longings. Even our own longings, whatever they may be, point to our deep need for fulfillment in Christ, a longing that won’t be completely met until his Second Coming, when all things will be made new.
Just as you may have taken time to give your friends and family a Christmas list of wants and needs, take a few moments to also make another list. Bring before God your deepest longings and your feelings of neediness. In what way can God already meet you in your need? Accept and give thanks for his provision. Now what longings must wait for heaven or Christ’s return? Acknowledge the yearning and allow it to give you a sense of anticipation for eternity. The value of anticipation is that it can nudge us to look upward towards God. When we realize that we must wait for our longings to be met, then we stop searching for fulfillment in the world around us and look instead to God for the strength to endure the waiting.
Thankfully, the wait can sometimes be the best part. Children love to see presents under the tree, knowing they will open them Christmas day. Planning a vacation is often half the fun. Counting down to graduation, a wedding, or the baby’s due date allows us to share our joyful anticipation with those around us. And when we know that our expectations will be met, we have every reason to rejoice in the waiting. Ephesians 1:14 says:
“The Spirit is God’s guarantee he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (emphasis mine).
Think of the Holy Spirit in you as the gifts under the tree with your name on them, the guarantee that you will be surprised and blessed by joy in the near future. The Spirit is our guarantee that we will live forever with Christ, that he will indeed come again to rescue us once and for all.
And unlike this life, when sometimes our expectations are let down, the Spirit is wholly reliable. All that we expect and anticipate will be fulfilled beyond our imagination. It will be better than we ever hoped. When Christ comes again, it will be the best day ever, the best Christmas ever. May you blessed this season as you enjoy the waiting.