Frederick Buechner writes,
“For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
Do you remember when we were all so ready for “2020” to end, and then “2020” just kept going? For an entire extra year? If there was ever a period in most of our living memory that made us long for the coming of Jesus, it has been the beginning of our present decade.
We walk the earth in profoundly divided times. A toxic political atmosphere, the injustices surrounding racial tensions, the best way forward through a lingering pandemic, the ethics of vaccine mandates—all this and more splits families, churches, and nations down the middle. And we are wearied by it.
Amid so much uncertainty and fatiguing disagreement, Christians share one universal reality: we long for healing and renewal. We long for the justice-giving, shalom-creating touch that can only come down to us from above.
In other words, we’ve never been more prepared for the season of Advent.
Adoration and Ache
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “arrival.” It’s the sense that something magnificent is about to happen. Something wonderful is on the way.
It’s the hush falling over a theatre audience, straining forward in anticipation of the opening notes, when the conductor raises his baton. It’s the child on Christmas Eve lying in bed, unable to close his eyes for sheer excitement. It’s those moments right before the sun bursts over the horizon or the breathlessness before a couple’s first kiss. Advent describes those preceding moments of ache-filled adoration.
It is adoration because we sense the beauty of what’s about to happen.
It is ache because we still have to wait for it.
Or, to use the language of Christmas carols, Advent is the joyful shout within the lyrics, “O come, let us adore him!” mixed with the longing cry of, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.”
Timothy Paul Jones writes,
“In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning, recognizing it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for the divine banquet Jesus is preparing for us. In Advent, the church admits, as poet R. S. Thomas puts it, that ‘the meaning is in the waiting.’ And what we await is a final Advent yet to come. Just as the ancient Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah in flesh, we await the coming of the Messiah in glory. In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word.”
In every Christian, there is a cosmic homesickness for the way things are meant to be. Have we ever been more ready to experience the full dimensions of Advent?
Observing Advent awakens not only joyful remembrance over the first coming of Christ but also a deep yearning for his second coming (Rev. 22:20). In many ways, the church of this present age is in a similar position to God’s people toward the end of the Old Testament—marginalized in exile, hoping in the darkness, waiting in the stillness for the Day when Christ returns and, in Tolkien’s words, “makes every sad thing come untrue.”
Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas
This Sunday, November 28, 2021, marks the beginning of a four-week season on the Christian calendar. It’s a yearly rhythm designed to prime our hearts for Christmas as we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Promised One, into our world. It’s a season in which we learn to counterculturally slow down amid the hurried December blur and remember that we’re standing in the middle of God’s great story—a story moving with certainty to the most gripping and satisfying finale of all.
Knowing where to begin is usually the most difficult part. Below are some resources to help you and your family cultivate worshipful anticipation through the Advent season. For families, observing Advent together might be the perfect time to rekindle the fire of family devotions or light them up for the very first time.
Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul Tripp
Repeat the Sounding Joy by Christopher Ash
Love Came Down at Christmas: A Daily Advent Devotional by Sinclair Ferguson
The Weary World Rejoices by Melissa Kruger
Written by: Adam Ramsey