This year, a quiet sadness lies buried under the twinkling of Christmas lights. Little hands have spread a shimmer of glitter from house top to house bottom, and the most wonderful of sounds, the delighted laughter of kiddos, wafts through the crisp air, and yet there is an ache in my heart. This is the first Christmas we’ll celebrate without my Mom. The first of many holidays that will be forever changed.
Christmas has always been a time of joy in our household and we partake of the usual traditions. My Mom would always read the Christmas story found in the Gospel of Luke before the three of us girls could even touch the stockings. Now, you’ll find us putting up the tree (or in our case three trees, as each boy has decorated his own little Charlie Brown tree), baking and frosting Christmas cookies, and attending Christmas Eve services. And yes, we’ll still read from Luke, but perhaps after the stockings have been opened.
The Christmas season holds in tension exuberant joy and aching sadness. We anticipate with joy and yet something or someone is missing. For my family this year, like so many families, the brokenness of the world, the effects of sin, and the reality of death can take some of the shimmer and shine off of the holidays, even Christmas.
And that’s why I love the lesson of Advent so much.
Advent is the part of the church calendar that precedes the birth of Christ. It is a season of waiting on Jesus, a season of darkness, and preparation. In fact, Advent models the Intertestamental Period—the period of time between the New and Old Testaments in which the people of Israel did not hear from the Lord. Not a single prophet. Not a single revelation. For 400 years. And as frustrating and painful as it can be to wait, especially when those we love have gone on before us, Advent tells us that a season of rejoicing is coming. In fact, the Intertestamental Advent, a time of waiting for what must have seemed like an interminable amount of time, preceded the greatest miracle of all: the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
So, this year, in addition to celebrating Christmas, we are also celebrating Advent. As we wait, as we prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus, the lyrics of the familiar song, O Holy Night, capture our expectations: "A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn." Advent reminds me that it is often darkest before before the dawn, and that even, or perhaps especially, when God seems quiet, is is then that he is working out the miraculous. For us now, we wait not only to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, but also for his promised second coming. We long for the day in which he will return to earth to wipe away every tear, a day in which there will be no more morning, or crying, or pain, or death. As John 3:16 puts it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” And that promise, one of everlasting life, is one worth waiting for.