Waiting, longing, anticipation . . . these words express one of the primary themes for the Advent season.
In our own lives, we are not unfamiliar with waiting. Waiting has its simple forms: queuing in a traffic jam, sitting through soccer practice, or taking number 98 when they are serving number 32. But waiting also has a deeper form when our circumstances which present sense of longing for resolution or even pain: a job lost, a life alone, a child prodigal, a friend’s rejection, a childless marriage. Both forms of waiting have this in common—an expectation. I had expected to be home from work in time for my son’s basketball game, I expected to be at the DMV for 30 minutes, I expected to be married by now, I expected my child to love Jesus, I expected to be more “successful” for my family.
Our Christmas celebrations also foster expectations: for good and for ill. The house waits in the aroma holiday meals in preparation. Children wait under tree lights to open that gift. Grandparents wait for reunions with children and grandbabies. Expectations met bring joy and delight.
Yet the Christmas season will undoubtedly present us with expectations which are not met, especially this year when many of our traditions will be modified or canceled altogether. The secular sentimentality so deeply wound into the season will almost necessarily set us up for these disappointments. The gift that we wanted may not be received–from the toy under the tree to a loved one at the door. Expectations not met bring grief and sadness.
Scripture gives us stories for this season that are ripe with waiting and expectation: Zechariah waits to speak again, Mary waits for birth, Magi make their journey with anticipation, Simeon & Anna wait with all Israel for the Messiah. In these stories, we see characters who have been given a vision for something that is coming. We get to join them as they navigate their questions and doubts, their joy and wonder. They give us a template for our response to the longings and expectations present in our own lives.
To wait for our turn in line may requires patience, but generally we can see to the end of our waiting. However, when we wait for the resolution of brokenness, it requires something more transcendent–it requires hope. That is where the celebration of the true Christmas shatters the sentimental shell of holiday cheer. The world is aching for resolution to these longings for healing and restoration–for Shalom. May this Advent season find you turning your expectation to the hope of the Incarnation.