I grew up in a church that celebrated Christmas very well. Trust me, I had my fair share of experiences climbing out of a window wearing 20 pound wings to play the archangel in the live nativity- still a little bitter I never got to be Mary. We packed shoe boxes for kids overseas and gave Christmas presents to families in our home town. One time, the Grinch even came to AWANA. I was so afraid of him, my leader had to take me to my mom. But amidst all of this, there is one thing we never celebrated. One thing that brings so much more meaning to Christmas- ADVENT.
I had such a small idea of what this word meant that when I came to college I wasn’t completely sure if that was even a Christian thing to celebrate. Oh but the beauty it interweaves into a quiet night in Bethlehem.
I knew about the Shepherds, the virgin Mary, the manger, the stable, etc. but what I had not pieced together was just how long God’s people had waited for this moment. Generations of generations of Israelites had spent their whole lives hoping and trusting the Messiah would come. Through the difficult times of wandering in the wilderness, of slavery in Egypt, of captivity in Babylon, they continued to place their hope in this one day. This one moment when “Christ the Savior is born.”
This story, this picture is so much more than a baby being born in a stable. It is the fulfillment of prophecies and hopes of God’s people for preceding centuries.
And in the same way that they hoped and believed in the prophecies of the coming Messiah, we too wait for Christ’s return. We long in times of unrest, in times of infertility, in times of terrorism, in times of loneliness, in times of doubt, in times of poverty, in times of hopelessness, in times of fear. We long for the coming of the Savior to fulfill what we have hoped for from generation to generation.
I’ve been learning a good deal recently about the idea of waiting and longing, because honestly I don’t think we get it in today’s society. We are not a people who have planted seeds and waited for a harvest. We are a people who buy an app and it instantly downloads to our phones. We have no clue how to wait and how to long. I even reached the point of not being sure of how to interact with God when I have consistently prayed for something and that need has gone unmet.
How do I invite You into a pain I know You can heal?
I haven’t been able to answer that question yet. But I do see that there is purpose in waiting, hoping, and believing. When we think of stories in scripture of people waiting and hoping for what they were praying for, we think of how God met that need, but we in doing this we overlook the period of time when they were hurting and hopeless, unsure of God’s response.
I think of Hannah in 1 Samuel praying for a son. She had prayed for so long and found herself at her wit’s end of waiting so she went to the Temple to pray where she was praying with such passion that the priest thought she was drunk. How we have lost this art of waiting.
Over the past few days I’ve been able to help a friend with her newborn baby. Oh my gosh is she the sweetest thing! But also, she has brought so many truths to mind for me about who we are and how we’re created.
I went into the room 2 hours after she was born and in her first few hours of being alive I was realizing that up until this point she has never felt hunger, never felt cold, or never felt scared. Her every need had been met and provided for her. She’s never had to work to be full, she’s just been full. She’s never had to be wrapped in blankets to be warm, she’s just been warm.
And what our Gracious Father has taught me through this frail, beautiful thing is that we weren’t created for this.
The space and tension that we feel between the things we hope for and the things we receive is the very space that proves to us that He has set eternity in our hearts. Our longing to be whole and to be satisfied are what propel us to crave His arrival and His return.
Thus I come back to this idea that is so hard for me to swallow- Our every longing draws us back to the feet of Jesus. This sweet baby I have been able to hang out with, of course cannot meet her own needs. She can’t hold her head up on her own yet, better yet provide food for herself, clean herself, protect herself, or wrap herself in a blanket. She is born utterly dependent on her parents.
In the same way, we are not satisfied. At times we are lonely, hopeless, depressed, hurting, and empty and Christmas has a weird way of reminding us of that. And in the same way that a baby needs her parents to keep her warm, fed, and safe, we need our Father, our Shepherd, our Provider to hold us and keep us.
So my prayer this Christmas is to feel the longing and the hoping for the arrival of our Messiah to enter into the hurt of unfulfilled expectations and believe that He is crafting hope and purpose. And to embrace more than ever that He is IMMANUEL- God with us.