Longing for an Unforced Advent

Advent seems to come like an unexpected visitor. We can anticipate its coming by the calendar. And yet, we cannot chose what will be interrupted when the season thrusts its way into our lives.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” - Luke 1:28

I wonder if Mary had been having a good day before the angel came.

Did she wake well-rested from an evening dancing with lovely dreams? Was her time around the table with loved ones the night before still lingering in a feeling of fullness? Was she walking with the lightness of a day bursting with possibilities?

Or did Mary wake up on the wrong side of bed, having one of those days that plunged deeper into a hole with each step? Did she exchange harsh words with her parents? Were her arms fatigued from carrying water and her patience exhausted from having no choice but to do it again? Did she have one of those knots in her shoulder that irritated everything else she tried to do?

I wonder how Mary felt in the moments before the angel broke into her life. Like so many things that followed, it was a factor outside of her control. 

Advent seems to come like an unexpected visitor. We can anticipate its coming by the calendar. And yet, we cannot chose what will be interrupted when the season thrusts its way into our lives.

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Life does not come one feeling at a time. Births and deaths, miracles and disappointments, abundance and need, friendship and loneliness… all these and more mingle and meander through our days and weeks. 

There are times when this Advent longing feels like just the right season. The events of the last week highlighting more clearly than ever our need for the Prince of Peace to break into this world with His justice and love once and for all. We long to see shalom restored. We can feel to the depths of our souls that this world is not the way it’s supposed to be.

But there are others times when this season of Advent longing feels forced. Though we know this world is in need, those realities feel distant. We are keenly aware of our blessings, and stuffed full with the richness and celebration of the Christmas season.

And at those times, we can feel guilty. Honestly, Advent longing sometimes feels like a big religious “should” heaped upon our fluctuating December emotions.

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Yesterday, I was edgy most of the day. I was feeling vulnerable, and it came out sideways as irritability. Not quite the feelings I hoped to carry into the first Sunday of Advent. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to turn.  

Yet, I wonder if Advent is not as much about forcing certain feelings at it is about carving space. Advent is about finding space to notice... Where do we feel Christ’s presence in our lives and where do we wish He would show himself a little more clearly? Where does the world seem to reflect His goodness and where does He seem far away? 

Then, we can pray. We can read the Scriptures. We can look for ways to serve our neighbors. Even if we can't enter into Advent longing with feelings, we can do so with our mind and actions. Sometimes the emotions may follow, and sometimes they may not. And either way, it's okay.

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I wonder how Mary felt in the moments after the angel broke into her life, as she anticipated the birth of her Son. Pregnancy is looong. My guess her emotions fluctuated through fear, joy, longing, sadness, disappointment, boredom, excitement, gratitude, and grief. Perhaps sometimes even cycling through a multitude of those feelings all in the same day.

Regardless of how she felt, it didn’t stop time from moving forward. The world’s longing for a Savior stepped closer to fulfillment with each passing day.

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Advent is about making space to notice Christ. Thanks be to God that His coming is not dependent on my emotions.