Why you need Advent more than you realize
The waiting of Advent is actually good for us and is molding us into the likeness of Christ.
As a culture, we can’t wait to get to Christmas. Retailers can’t wait to put out the Christmas decor and prep you for their “must have” Christmas deals. Children can’t wait for presents, and parents can’t wait for the extra vacation time. Everything in our frenzied Christmas culture is driving us to that 15-minute period on December 25 when meticulously wrapped presents will be clawed open to reveal an item that will likely be in next year’s garage sale or donation box.
As advertisers and retailers push the season of Christmas upon us with ever-increasing ferocity, it has increased our impatience and inability to wait. The very thing that was once part and parcel of the season has become its dreaded enemy: waiting. We have been trained to miss the weight of waiting during the season.
Waiting for Christ
First, we must understand that the church is not in the “Christmas season” but the season of Advent. Advent (from the Latin for “coming” or “arrival”) is the church’s celebration of the first coming of Christ. It’s the season of reflection upon the light of Christ shining after a long period of darkness.
The nature of Advent is all about waiting.
It points us back to the 400 years of silence following the last prophecy of Malachi who foretold the arrival of the Messiah and the era of justice he would usher in with this kingdom. As Malachi’s final pen stroke dried on the papyrus, the people began this period of waiting. In that period of waiting, God’s people faced intense suffering. Wars continued, famines struck, infertility persisted, and the broken world continued to demonstrate its need for redemption. A messiah was promised, yet the promises of God seemed to be null and void. Where was God in the midst of people’s affliction? Where was his promise of healing and restoration? How could he leave his people in the midst of their distress? These questions marked this agonizing period of waiting.
Waiting is good, waiting is difficult
Advent is all recognizing that we have real problems that require divine solutions. In the midst of this waiting, we ask God to intervene in our lives to bring healing, strength, and hope. The 400 years of God’s silence put his people’s faith to the test. Advent for Christians presents us with an opportunity to enter into this era of delayed gratification. Though on one side we recognize the Savior has come, we also need to acknowledge the dramatic nature and timing of this coming. Paul said at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6). God knew the timing of Christ’s coming; he had planned it from before the foundations of the world. Yet there was still a necessary time of waiting.
Waiting in Scripture is often characterized in two different ways.
- Waiting is for the sanctification of God‘s people. By waiting, we are trusting the Lord and our faith is tested as we hold to God’s promises. The Psalmist declares, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 31:24).
- Waiting relates to God‘s sovereignty and divine purposes. God challenges Job to ponder his sovereignty when he says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4). We were not present with God when he created the universe, nor are we able to give him counsel. This doesn’t make him capricious, but one who is sovereign and who has good and proper plans for his creation. Waiting, therefore, is the proper posture for a finite creature who is fully dependent upon an Infinite God.
But we hate to wait
The reality is this: we hate to wait. By nature, we are impatient. This tells us waiting is actually good for us and is molding us into the likeness of Christ. Paul encourages his readers, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col. 1:11). Indeed, one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience (Gal. 5:22).
Christ is the fulfillment of our waiting.
This does not mean however that we should neglect the heavy feeling of waiting which has marked the people of God and should still mark us today. The Christian faith is a waiting faith. The people of God in the old covenant waited for in the coming of the King born in Bethlehem. In the new, the people of God wait for the King to return a second time in glory.
In a season fraught with busy schedules, waiting is counter-cultural. But we do not wait without hope. We wait and we hope because we recognize that we have a God who fulfills his promises, even though we may not always recognize how he does so. We wait because we know God has a redemptive plan which is more beautiful than any other vision this world can offer. This plan, so clearly demonstrated in Scripture, has as its fulcrum the coming of God’s Son in the flesh.
Put Christ at the center of your waiting
Thus, Christ is at every point the focus of our waiting. This season should instill in us a richer understanding that God has a plan which will be accomplished according to his will and purpose, and ultimately for our good. As ministers of the gospel, we should not be remiss in communicating this glorious truth to our people.
What would it look like to be a Church once again marked by the weightiness of waiting? While war continues, relationships fracture, sin and suffering persist, we wait for the return of the King. So let’s avoid the temptation to make this season of Advent more palatable by neglecting the weightiness of waiting. Let us reflect on the period of silence preceding the coming of Christ, and find strength in our current waiting. Advent means “to come,” and we wait longingly for the Lord to come again.
And let us pass this critical message on to those whom God has graciously put in our care.