Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent and Christmas: Waiting and Welcoming

                Advent is all about the wait—we have considered together various themes; in our own celebration they have been “hope, peace, joy, love.”  We rehearse and remember all the ways in which Jesus’s birth was predicted and prophesied.  We think about all the expectations (some correct, others not) that were associated in people’s minds with the coming of the Messiah.  And we try to remind ourselves of all the importance that is attached to Jesus’s being born as both fully man and fully God—the biblical truths that he embodies.
                All of this has been preparation during our waiting for Christmas.  Tonight marks the end of our waiting.  Advent officially ends this evening, and we mark that end by lighting the center candle in our wreaths, the Christ Candle.  It reminds us that in the coming of Jesus to that manger in Bethlehem, the waiting of generations for the Messiah to come has come to an end.  Tomorrow is no longer Advent, the season of waiting, but Christmas the Day of Welcome.  “Coming” becomes “came.”  Advent yields to arrival.
                Waiting is only worthwhile if we know what we are waiting for, and if what we are waiting for is worth it.  I enjoy celebrating Advent, but it would be pretty pointless if there wasn’t a Christmas to follow, wouldn’t it?
                We celebrate the Advent season because we want to drink deep of all the truth and hope we find in Jesus Christ.  The anticipation is made powerful for us because we know that Jesus came.  Unlike all those characters of the various Bible stories leading up to Christmas but who didn’t see its fulfillment, we know what they and we were waiting for.  Every year, we proceed through Advent, and get to move on to celebrate Christmas.  Advent becomes our time to get our thinking straight on what Christmas should mean.
                But as I was thinking about all the blessings we will celebrate tomorrow because Christmas has come, something in my mind said “not so fast.”  The coming of Jesus, so long anticipated, took place.  Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again.  He accomplished our redemption.  He paid the price for our sin.  He conquered death.
                However, that was not the end of the story.  He said we was going to His Father, but he would come back.  He ascended, and when he did, angels told his followers he would return in the same way he went away.  And in Titus 2:11-13, we are told that, once again, God’s people (us) are waiting.  We are looking for Jesus to come—for his second Advent to draw near.  So, as one Advent now comes and goes, another continues…
                If we really grasp the meaning of Christmas, then we understand that the story of Christmas, of Good Friday, and even of Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost is all a part of a larger “Advent season” a greater season of waiting and anticipation.  Our celebrations tomorrow can and should be joyful, but they are only a small taste of what that final “welcoming” will mean when our waiting is all done.  When you are with loved ones tomorrow, or open that especially meaningful gift, or experience some moment of sheer bliss, thank God for it, and realize that it is just a taste, a tiny hint of what will one day be yours in never ending supply when Jesus comes back for his own, as he promised. 
                Welcome Christmas Day! But as you welcome it once again, don’t forget what, or Who, you are really waiting for!