Each year at Christmastime, I lead the church in the observance of Advent. The term ‘Advent’ was adopted from Latin adventus which means ‘coming or arrival’ and it refers to the season of anticipation before the arrival of Christ, which, for our church, takes place the four Sundays before Christmas. Through our observance of Advent, we are, as a community of faith, encouraged to demonstrate and appreciate the characteristics of Christian expectancy – hope, peace, joy, and love. It is for this reason that we have been lighting candles and offering prayers since the last Sunday of November and will continue to do so through this weekend.
This year especially, I have been thinking about Advent and contemplating the arrival of what has been promised from a particularly secular perspective: I have been thinking about Advent every time I track a package. Because of the pandemic, most of my Christmas shopping has been on-line and, because of this, I am regularly checking my Amazon app and entering tracking numbers on the websites of UPS, USPS, and FedEx. Some days I am filled with elation as I see the progress of my purchases and other days I am filled with exasperation as I consider contacting customer service.
Many times, I am not in the most healthy of places. As trucks go up and down the street, I watch from the window (like a kid with a quarter waiting for the Ice Cream Man), wondering if they will stop and, if they do, will they have something for me. As the weeks turn into days before Christmas, I find that I am worrying more and more about the 3 Ds – delay, damage, or delivery to the wrong address. I have become so preoccupied with my expectations that I risk missing out on the blessings of what is to come.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NIV84)
This is why I need Advent. The words of Isaiah quoted above were written more than six centuries before the birth of Jesus. Imagine the tracking information on Isaiah’s laptop: “Expected delivery – March 7, 2638, before 9 PM”. The trouble with me is that I want things done on my time schedule; the gift of Advent is that it reminds us that all things are done on God’s perfect time schedule. Jesus arrived just when He was expected. Jesus will return just when He is expected. For that reason, we can have hope, peace, joy, and love today.
I will continue to check on the progress of my packages, confident that they will arrive when the time is right for them to arrive. I have hope that they will be before Christmas, but even if they are late, as I reckon time, they will still get here. I have peace in knowing that they are on their way or will be soon. I have joy in the anticipation, which may or may not be resolved on December 25. I have love in my heart for those receiving these packages and those carrying them to their eventual destination.
May God bless you in this season of arrival.
I have a simple question for all those reading this: when do we stop celebrating our “Season’s Greetings”? When the radio and television stations return to their regular programming? When the last Christmas cookies have been eaten? When the tree and decorations are taken down? When the final greeting card, initially misdirected by the Post Office, arrives? Until the next holiday is celebrated? Until the children return to school after their Winter Break? Once all the exterior lights have been boxed and stored away? I suppose we all must move on from all of those special gatherings with family and friends filled with all sorts of special traditions and resume the mundane schedule of everyday life, but when?
But what if I do not want to move on from Christmas? What if I still want to reflect on the gifts of advent – the hope, peace, joy and love that comes through the appearing of Christ? What if the remembrance of the 1st advent at Bethlehem, has whet my appetite for the 2nd advent when Christ shall descend from the clouds? While I can dispense with the carols and the cookies, I would like to retain the warmth of the manger, the worship of the shepherds, the hospitality of the city of David and the generosity of God, the Father.
When [the shepherds] had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:17-20
I want to be like those shepherds, so impacted by the facts and sensations of Christmas that they were undeniably transformed. Because of the advent, these blue-collar laborers went from sheep herders shaking in fear to pastors leading lost sheep to verdant fields. They went back to their ordinary schedules with an understanding of the extraordinary sights and sounds of the Savior born in a Bethlehem manger. They were changed by Christmas, as is evidenced by their propensity for giving glory and praise to God. They had no special carols or cards or casseroles – they had the Christ and He was sufficient to sustain them.
I will, in the days ahead, put everything that symbolizes Christmas into boxes or, in the case of our tree, onto the curb – all the external stimuli that reminds me of that blessed event two thousand years ago. But, like the shepherds, I will continue to carry inside me all the sounds, scents and sights that make Christmas special. My hope is that the inward prompts of these sensational sensations will stimulate my soul to maintain a spirit of glory and praise every day in every place as I interact with everyone. Instead of celebrating Christmas throughout the year, perhaps I can communicate the hope, peace, joy and love of Immanuel – God with us – for a while longer.
Lord, help me to remember that on every day that ends with ‘y’ that Christ came to inaugurate “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”