There is something about advent that captivates me, perhaps more than any other period in the christian year. It seems to faithfully reflect the world we live in; the vast chasm between the world we long for and the world we live in, the despair we feel and the hope we cling to.
Advent invites us to recognise the ‘yets’ throughout our lives; the world is darker than we can bear and yet God is kinder than we can imagine, the kingdom of God is now and not yet, Jesus is fully divine and yet fully human.
The wait between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New was four hundred years; four hundred years of silence and longing for the Israelites. Advent both signals the end of that period of waiting for the Messiah and the the beginning of a new wait – for the recreation, the end of crying, mourning and pain.
It’s reflected in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah; advanced in years their hopes for a child must have been long gone and much like Abraham and Sarah, the news that they would conceive a child in their old age was greeted with disbelief. Whilst Sarah laughed at hearing from an angel that she was to bear a child, Zechariah was silenced until his son, the man who would herald Jesus’ arrival, was born.
In this life we do not receive all we long for; arms may remain empty, prodigals don’t always come home, losses will be borne. And yet we see here not just stories of promises fulfilled, but of hope that cannot be extinguished – even by the darkest despair.
We may not have a choice in what we are waiting for, or how long the wait, but we do have a choice in how we wait.
Tanya Marlow writes in her book “Those Who Wait”;
“I wanted fulfilment; instead, God repeated the promise”
Every time I’ve read those words (and I’ve read them a fair few times) I’ve been reminded that as we wait God reveals more of himself to us. He shows us more of his character, his compassion and shares the hope he has set before us all.
So often in my life I’ve raged at God because He isn’t doing what I want Him to do – only to look back and see the way He worked in (and sometimes in despite) how I have waited. God does not promise to give us everything we want – He promises us Himself -and if we can wait on Him in our waiting, we can be transformed.
Waiting without hope can consume us, twisting our desires into idols and our longing into bitterness; but if we dare wait with hope, if we dare wait in the silence for his voice or the dark for his illumination, He will never fail us.
” if we dare wait with hope, if we dare wait in the silence for his voice or the dark for his illumination, He will never fail us.”
The words of 12th century carol “O Come O Come Emmanuel” capture the agony and expectancy of waiting with hope; that we are not left in our despair but have had eternity engraved in our hearts.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”
We wait, in our mourning and our loneliness – and yet:
Not a tear is wasted in the wait as we fix our eyes on our God who waited in a womb for us.
So let us not rush the wait of advent, let us tune our hearts to it, and watch as the light of the world is ignited in our darkness.