Christmas is two days away.
I don’t know how you’re doing this holiday season, but I know I ache with weariness.
Weariness of things happening with my family back in Kentucky.
Weariness of tornadoes and typhoons.
Weariness of the adversity plaguing our church family.
Weariness of COVID.
Weariness of separation and sorrow.
Weariness of just life in a fallen world with other fallen image bearers feeling the hurts and pains of suffering and trials.
This season, more than almost any I can remember before, I feel the strain of the brokenness of this world.
Do you feel it too?
The pain and weight of the consequences of sin, the hurt of broken families and devastating heartbreak, the longing for what the Lord has seen fit to withhold and sometimes the lamenting over what He has seen fit to give.
This is a time of year where we celebrate the coming of Christ. We rejoice in the Son of God’s condescension to wrap Himself in fallen flesh, to enter a womb of a teenage girl, and to be traumatically birthed into this world He made. We celebrate that He didn’t stay a baby but that He grew up and became a man who healed, spoke life, and then ultimately was traumatically crucified before rising from the dead in victory to defeat sin, hell, and the grave, killing death by death.
This is a celebration, but Advent is the anticipation of that celebration, not the celebration itself. Advent comes from the Latin word which means coming. Something is coming. In our case, we look back to remember the first coming of Christ and are now looking forward, awaiting the return of our Savior. Advent is the longing for that coming, the longing for hope to be truly fulfilled, the longing for redemption, the longing for the Savior who will one day make all the sad things untrue.
But just because this is a season of celebration, does not mean it cannot also be a season of intense sorrow. It’s not always a holly jolly holiday. In fact, for some, this time of year can be the most brutal.
Some of us will have Christmas without someone for the first time this year.
Some of us won’t be able to have Christmas with our families due to COVID.
Some of us will long for what is not and mourn what used to be.
And some will feel the pangs of loneliness and grief like daggers to the soul.
Advent is the invitation to feel the weariness of our hearts and minds, the weariness of our world plagued with division and turmoil, and the weariness of being a human dealing with human struggles.
Think about the first Advent as the world awaited the Messiah. We participate in Advent every year, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but in the Old Testament we see a people who were always waiting for their Deliverer. And as Malachi ends and we flip in our Bibles one page to begin Matthew, we know that one page represents 400 years. Four hundred years where God did not speak. Four hundred years of silent anticipation, silent dread of what would happen next while also longing for the Promised One to come and be the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace that was foretold.
My oldest nephew was baptized a couple weeks ago, so my husband and I made the trek to Kentucky to be there for his baptism, to celebrate Isaac’s salvation for which we had been praying for so long. One of the points from the pastor at my nephew’s church made was about this intertestamental time.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
We are waiting for God’s second coming when God’s people will have the fullness of joy, we will see all the wrongs will be righted, and all the injustices will be turned on its head. We are in a completely different spot than those in Malachi’s day. We know the end of the story. We have been made privy to the details of Christ’s first coming, of His life, death, and resurrection and those who have been made new creations have been given the Holy Spirit and the Word of God through the Bible. God is no longer silent, He has spoken to us through His Son (Hebrews 1). So now we can await Christ’s return with expectancy and joy because He will come to get His bride—us.
But for those who don’t know and fear God, that story will end differently. And as the people to whom Malachi prophesied were living in silent anticipation of destruction, time kept ticking. Imagine how they felt after hearing this warning. They must have been waiting for the shoe to drop, for God to come in the day that would be burning like an oven where He would strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. Imagine living under that fear.
And into a world cowering in fear of deserved judgment, God breaks the silence. How does He do it?
To break the silence, God sends John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord. John calls people to repent and believe the gospel, making ready the people for Christ’s ministry, and do you know what John’s name means?
John’s name means Yahweh is gracious.
Again, imagine living under the fear of the people of that time when they were waiting for the shoe to drop, knowing their sins and knowing what they deserved, waiting for God to come and burn them like an oven—and yet they are met not with judgment but with this amazing news “Yahweh is gracious.” He has come to seek and save the lost, to give even more time for repentance and belief, to bring good news of great joy.
So Advent is an invitation to feel the pain and brokenness of this world, to feel the weight of what should be and the discord between that and what is. But Advent is also an invitation to not stay there. Advent tells us there is cause for real, true hope that supersedes our feelings and circumstances because God is gracious. God has given us hope anchored in the first coming of Christ that leads us to firm belief that He will come again to make all things new.
The curse will be completely and totally lifted.
Brokenness will be broken.
Heartache will pass away.
Death will die.
So Advent is an invitation to feel the weariness of our hearts and world and lament, and Advent is an invitation to hope in what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do.
Advent is also an invitation to participate in the fullness of redemption.
As we hope for the coming of Christ, hungering for relief and redemption from the ongoing weight of our sin and the brokenness of the world—at the very same time we can help push back the curse. In fact, we’ve been called to that very thing as followers of the Messiah.
We push back against the curse first and foremost by killing our own sin and being vigilant against that which destroys joy, which sin always does. It may be pleasurable for a season but its end is destruction and it always affects others; we never sin in isolation.
We also push back the curse by partnering with ministries like Fighting with Hope and other organizations by working to increase the eternal joy of others and by living for the day when Christ once again comes, this time not as a baby but as a conquering King.
To summarize all of this, Titus 2:11-14 says it beautifully-
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
So may this Advent season open our hearts to feel the weariness of the world, to feel and trust the hope that has come and will come again, and to awaken us to a greater participation in the pushing back of the curse because Christ will one day break it in full.
That is our enduring hope for this season.