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.

Wonder: Advent Anticipation

Today's guest blogger is Kari Scare. She has been a frequent commenter on this blog, and I have always appreciated her insights. I'm excited to give her a little more space to share them today.

Remember the excitement you had as a child when Thanksgiving just ended and Christmas was officially on its way? A month seemed like an eternity, didn’t it? You could hardly contain yourself and may have even attempted to end the waiting by finding where your parents hid the presents.

For most adults, anticipation of Christmas is usually slightly more controlled, but it still stands out from the rest of the year. There are the telltale signs of putting up decorations the day after Thanksgiving, climbing all over the house to string up lights, and of course buying presents. While the focus of your excitement may be more on others, the anticipation of Christmas can still grab a hold of you much like it did when you were a child.

Anticipating Christmas is nothing new. Young and old alike have been captured by its advent for thousands of years.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders, and he will be called wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Isaiah anticipated Jesus’ coming some 700 years before His birth. Mary anticipated His coming (Luke 1:46-56). Even John the Baptist realized the significance of Jesus’ coming while both were still in their mothers’ wombs (Luke 1:39-45). And we can’t forget the shepherds (Luke 2:15) and the wise men who sought Him out with great anticipation (Matthew 2:1-2).

Too often, we forget that anticipating something, getting caught up in the excitement of an advent, is largely what makes a memory so special. So often, the event itself is such a small part considering the time and effort that went in to planning for and anticipating the event. Really, what helps hold the memory of an event so dearly in our hearts and minds is the depth to which we anticipated and planned for it.

The story of that first Christmas – and the anticipation of it by the Jews for thousands of years before – illustrates so well the excitement of what advent is all about. And yet, we have another advent we are currently experiencing that, dare we say it, is even more exciting than the one that lead Jesus’ birth.

“Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who believe this will keep themselves pure, just as Christ is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Have you ever even tried to imagine what life will be like when Christ returns? That’s what so great about anticipation. We can imagine what the actual event will be like, but it never ends up being exactly how we imagined. And when the focus is Christ, anything we imagine will always pale in comparison to reality.

Have you lost the excitement of advent? Perhaps it’s buffered by the busyness and the hustle and bustle of the many distractions this life has to offer. Challenge yourself to avoid being distracted by wood, hay and stubble and to instead get excited about why Jesus came in human form as a baby and to anticipate how his second coming culminates that purpose.

Let yourself get caught up in the excitement that comes with anticipating what’s coming by rekindling the meaning of being adopted into God’s family. Get a hold of the fact that on that first Christmas, God became flesh so He could relate to us. He gave up His kingly privileges to rekindle the broken relationship with man.

Rediscover the Christmas story by making His purpose your purpose. Decide to enjoy each day of advent by rekindling relationships in small and big ways. Refuse to let busyness and stress overwhelm you and steal that focus. Take back that excitement of anticipation, knowing that what God has in store for those who live for Him is way better than anyone can anticipate and imagine.

 


About Today's Guest Blogger: Kari Scare

I am a writer from Michigan. I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life, so there’s a good chance my blog postings will occasionally refer to our unique weather. My passions include reading books, magazines and blogs, pursuing a healthy lifestyle through exercise and diet, spending time with my two boys and my husband, and of course, writing. While these passions play a large part in defining who I am, please know that they are guided and directed by my faith in Christ. Everything I do revolves around His will for my life. I blog at Struggle to Victory and tweet at @KariScare.

 

Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.

Wonder: Waiting for the Right Gift

When Matt Appling writes, he calls the church to be a better version of herself. Somehow, he also manages to be both compelling & grace-filled. I hope you sense that in his words today.

Linus was able to recite the Christmas story by heart for the benefit of his friend, Charlie Brown…from the King James Bible no less.

Since then, millions of children had heard that familiar Christmas story as told by Linus.  Even if they never hear the story recited by a parent or pastor, they know the story because of Linus.

But I think there’s an equally good version of the Christmas story.  It just doesn’t get a whole lot of usage.

It’s about waiting…

About anticipation…

About all the emotions that are wrapped up with that infant Jesus.

 

The Other Christmas Story

 

One of my favorite scriptures to read at Christmas time is actually John chapter one.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…

…He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

No angels or shepherds or even a baby in the manger, but to me it is nothing less than the Christmas story.

 

The Twelve Weeks of Christmas

 

We put a lot of anticipation on Christmas.  The Christmas season really begins with Thanksgiving.  We see decorations return to stores in October, reminding us of the impending holiday.  Over a tenth of the year is spent anticipating Christmas.

I remember the unique feeling of anticipation and anxiety I felt as a child leading up to Christmas.  Today, I anticipate Christmas for different reasons than I did as a child, but the feeling of anticipation is still there.

But when I read John’s gospel, I imagine just how much God anticipated that first Christmas.

 

In the Beginning…

 

John’s gospel says that Jesus was with God in the beginning, way back in Genesis, when God was forming the world.  Jesus was right there, creating the world.

Of course, it was not long before God’s plan for humanity goes sideways.  God’s perfect creation is wrecked, like a child’s Christmas present that breaks right after being unwrapped.

I can imagine the heartbreak God felt as he sent his beloved people out of the garden.  He no longer enjoyed unbridled fellowship with his creation.

But God has a plan to make it all new again.

But it isn’t a plan that can be slapped together overnight.  God meticulously lays his plans, through generation after generation.  He is looking centuries into the future.  His heart continues to break as people turn away from Him.  The day when His plan will come to fruition seems like it cannot come soon enough.  But God must wait.

 

Expecting a Different Gift

 

All of the anticipation and excitement we have ever felt toward Christmas was utterly eclipsed by the anticipation God felt as He prepared to become incarnate among us.

God had the most perfect gift to give.  He could barely contain His excitement.  He knows that this gift will make everything right again.  The gift is finally given “in the fullness of time.”  That means the time was just right.

And what happened when the gift of the Savior, God with us, Immanuel, was finally given?

People didn’t recognize Him.  They were anticipating something else.  They missed Him.

That’s what people have been for two-thousand years.  We continue to expect something else.  We anticipate and get excited for another, lesser, imperfect gift than the one God was so excited to give.  And the excitement of all the gifts we give wears off so quickly.

Don’t miss the gift God wants to give you.  Get excited the way you did as a child.  Get some butterflies in your stomach, the kind you had as you ran downstairs in your PJs.  God has sent a Savior.  Make sure you don’t miss Him.

 


About Today's Guest Blogger: Matt Appling

For starters, I am an elementary art teacher, and I love it.  Guiding students in creative pursuits is such a gift to me.  I am also a seminary educated pastor, and lead a wonderful little house church.  In 2008, I started my blog, The Church of No People.  I am also a syndicated columnist at Prodigal Magazine. On April 1, 2013, Moody Publishers will release my debut book, Life After Art.  I wrote it with inspiration and insights I unexpectedly gained as an art teacher. I tweet at @MattTCoNP.

 

Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.