This Advent Season I had the unfortunate privilege of doing a funeral. I say unfortunate because funerals are obviously no fun. No person in their right mind actually looks forward to doing a funeral. But, I say it was a privilege because with the passing of a follower of Jesus Christ comes the unique opportunity to minister the grace of Jesus Christ and the good news of the gospel to their extended family, their friends and the community at large. And through walking with this family over the past few weeks leading up to the funeral and through the funeral itself, this Christmas season I am experiencing the true ‘reason for the season’ in a way that I never have before.
Of course we all know that Christmas is about Jesus. Right? I’ve known that my whole life. But this Christmas I’ve been learning and experiencing that the Christmas Season (or Advent as we say in the Church) really is accompanied by the feelings of angst and expectation. And not just the angst and expectation of what will be under the tree on Christmas morning, but the angst and expectation of a new reality breaking forth in the midst of this one.
The story of Christmas isn’t just about a cute cuddly baby being born in a manger. While that may be at the center of it, it’s the larger context of the story that gives the story its beauty and meaning. And what is that larger context? It’s the people of God awaiting the one who is said to destroy evil, beat death and restore all of creation back to the way that God intended things to be. And while God’s people wait, along with all of creation, they groan. Paul says in Romans 8,
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (v19-21).
This Advent season, I have had a front row seat to the groaning and aching of our world. And through that groaning and aching the angst and expectation of the advent (or arrival) of Jesus has been very palpable.
Interestingly enough, not only is Advent characterized by angst and expectation, it’s also characterized by joy and hope. And in the midst of all the sorrow I’ve seen and experienced this Advent, I have also seen and experienced a fair amount of joy and hope. Because even in the midst the angst of waiting… and even in the midst of the intense sorrow & grief of death… the first advent of Christ infuses even our darkest moments with joy and hope because we know that Christ’s first coming is not His only coming. At the end of the Bible, in the last chapter of the last book, Revelation 22v20 says,
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
So even though our waiting is accompanied by angst and expectation, it is also characterized by joy and hope because we know that the way we experience life in the here and now isn’t our ultimate reality. This isn’t the end all be all.
There will come a day when pain, suffering and death will be no more.
There will come a day when Christ will come again to redeem all of what has been lost.
There will come a day when we will be restored to the way God intended us to be.
But until then, we wait…
So yes, the ‘reason for the season’ is Jesus. But more specifically, we acknowledge and celebrate Advent to remind ourselves of the glorious mystery of Christ’s first coming and also in order to prepare ourselves for his second coming. And as we wait, it is possible to have our lives be characterized by joy even in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances.