There’s something electrifying about watching the seasons change.
More than I love spring itself, I marvel at the labour of blossoms coming out, slowly at first and then all at once. More than I love summer, I relish the feeling of stepping outside and noticing a measurable lightness to the air that wasn’t there the day before. More than fall itself, it’s the first golden leaves that signal what’s to come. And more than winter, it’s the day that putting on a warm jacket and scarf is finally justifiable.
It’s the anticipation of the season to come that excites me. The fact that I can see it happening around me gradually, more and more every day, but it hasn’t arrived quite yet. At least not in its fullness.
Advent is my favourite season in the church calendar. Maybe it’s the methodical lighting of one more candle every week – the gradual brightening of a dark space. Or maybe it’s the simple reality that anticipation enlivens us.
When we’re looking forward to something, we say, “I’m so excited, I can hardly sleep”. For most of us, sleep is a precious resource that we don’t usually get enough of. It can ruin our day when we don’t get enough sleep. But losing sleep becomes a positive thing when it’s caused by something exciting on the horizon, something we can’t wait for. It’s an indication that the thing anticipated is worthwhile.
Everything around us tells us that waiting is a waste of time. But waiting sharpens our desire. Waiting prepares us for something momentous.
In Advent, we are remembering and celebrating the anticipation of the incarnation. Reverend Kevin Chiarot explains that there are three things we observe in Advent: the fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises to Israel, preparation for the Messiah’s birth, and the anticipation of the second coming of Christ.
Firstly, we reflect on the fulfillment of promises to Israel. Just as soon as the fall of humanity occurred, God promised a redeemer – the seed of the woman would crush the seed of the serpent. Israel waited long (but not always patiently) for the fulfillment of this promise. To participate in advent is to join with the historical groaning of Israel for her Redeemer.
Secondly, we reflect on the anticipation of the incarnation. We wait, and we rejoice, that the son of God chose to humble himself, come down from heaven and dwell amongst us. We wait for Emmanuel, God with us.
Finally, we wait for the second coming of Christ. Whereas the first two components happened historically, the third is happening now. Advent means ‘coming’. Yes, we celebrate what has come already, but we also look forward to things still to come.
Chiarot puts it like this:
“Into this age breaks the future, breaks the peace, which is destined to overwhelm and flood the creation. For the prophetic promises are not simply that the Messiah will come and atone for our sins, though that is central to them, they are also that the Messiah will make wars to cease to the end of the earth. That the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. So in Jesus there is a beginning of the end – a breaking in of the future into our time.”
This is Advent.
It’s the confluence of these three things, which all converge in the incarnation of Christ, that make it such a rich time in the church calendar. There’s a lot going on for a season dedicated entirely to the tedious act of waiting.
It’s tempting to want to get directly to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible, to skip the line and get straight to the meat. Everything around us tells us that waiting is a waste of time. But waiting sharpens our desire. Waiting prepares us for something momentous. When it comes to the incarnation of a holy God, we need to be a people prepared and waiting is a necessary part of this.
Adam and Eve waited for a promised one who would lead to their deliverance and redemption from the fall. Abraham and Sarah, elderly and barren, waited for the birth of Isaac to fulfill God’s promise to them. In Luke’s Gospel we hear about Zechariah and Elizabeth, also elderly and barren, waiting to receive a child, John the Baptist, who tells God’s people to wait just a little longer for their messiah.
It must look strange to celebrate waiting. In most cases we hate waiting: waiting in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for the movie we’re streaming to load, waiting for an important phone call, waiting for healing, waiting for answers, waiting for just the right ingredients for happiness. We are not good at waiting. But when what we are waiting for is truly worthwhile, there is joy in the anticipation.
Adam and Eve wait. Abraham and Sarah wait. Zechariah and Elizabeth wait. John the Baptist tells people to wait longer still, and to prepare for the coming of Christ. The layers and layers of waiting in this story exist for one thing: the incarnation of God’s son.
This puts the words of the carol ‘come thou long expected Jesus’ into perspective. It adds urgency and a brazen impatience to the carol ‘oh come, oh come Emmanuel’.
Advent calls us into waiting because what we are waiting for is so valuable that every bit of the process of it’s coming is worth savouring. Redemption is worth waiting for. Anticipation enlivens us and we wait in joy for what is yet to come.