This year's Advent season has been kind of different – unique – mostly in a good way.
Part of it is borne out of the fact that I decided to wait for most of the 'celebratory' aspects of Christmas – the decorating, the baking, the gift wrapping, the music, the guests - until…well…Christmas. We are all off of work and school that week between Christmas and New Years and will actually have time to savor and enjoy those activities. I find that now I'm actually looking forward it rather than dreading one (or two, or three, or four) more thing to cram in around my husband's busy work schedule, the kids' swimming lessons, and moving house (which is how we spent the first three weeks of December).
Part of it has been seeing the kids embrace our Advent devotional traditions as their own. They asked for weeks ahead of time if we were going to listen to the Messiah again this year. They are active participators in our nightly Jesse Tree readings. They listen. They ask questions. All those years of trying to establish these traditions when they were all little and it seemed to be a waste of time because they were too wiggly and squirmy to get anything out of it? That's totally paying off now that they are a little bit older.
Part of it has been that I have been taking the time to do my own personal reflections on Advent, using the devotional guide portion of Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year, meditations that have seamlessly tied together with my regular through-the-New-Testament readings, my personal literary reading, and what we've been reading with the children. Those twin themes of Advent - waiting and patience -have been particularly meaningful to me this year. This has been true both on a personal level in my daily battle against discouragement and on a grander level when one starts to think about all the hard, hard things going on all over the world – those things that sometimes make you start to wonder at times if God is still there.
Consider this from Isaiah 35:3-4, 10:
"Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, 'Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, But He will save you…The ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing with flee away." (NASB)
On the same day that I read that in the Advent devotional, my regularly-scheduled Bible reading was from 2 Peter 2. The very same theme was echoed – waiting and hoping for the Savior who will mete out vengeance on the unrighteous and salvation to those who belong to Him. The day is coming when all will be made right. We've started reading the Narnia books out loud to the children, and even that story has tied right in to my reflections:
"Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
(CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe)
The following day, I came to the story of the birth of John the Baptist in my Advent reflections. The thought occurred to me about how very amazing these events must have been to Zechariah and Elizabeth and those around them after 400 years of "silence" - to see God stirring and working again…to see prophecies being fulfilled, to know that they were not forgotten. This birth of John the Baptist was like that first thaw of spring after endless winter in Narnia....Aslan was on the move! The promised Messiah was coming to rescue and to redeem and to save: "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79, NASB).
I saw the Advent theme again as I read the final few books of Homer's Odyssey this past weekend. Penelope, Odysseus' wife, has been waiting for 20 long years for Odysseus to return home from the Trojan War - never knowing if he was dead or alive. Talk about waiting - longing - hoping - hardly daring to believe that it might be true - and then the joy when she finally recognizes that it is him, alive and well and home again:
"Joy, warm as the joy that shipwrecked sailors feel when they catch sight of land - Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of waves, and only a few escape swimming, struggling out of the frothing surf to reach the shore, their bodies crusted with salt but buoyed up with joy as they plant their feet on solid ground again, spared a deadly fate..."
(Homer, trans. Fagles, The Odyssey , Book 23 Lines 262-269
Waiting and patience…and the joy that comes when that long waiting is over and the thing sought for has come at last. He HAS come to save us, and WILL come again to take us home. We can have hope in the waiting because we know that the joy will come. It is sure and it is certain.
E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come!