Advent is about waiting, about delayed gratification, about putting ourselves in a mode of patient expectation like those who experienced the first coming of Christ after a long period of anticipation. It’s only when we take the time and energy to cultivate this expectant hope that God has the room to be born in us anew each other.
I feel like I’ve been living in the season of Advent for the past two and a half years as Elizabeth and I struggled with infertility. Instead of an Advent of hopeful expectation, I have mainly experienced an Advent of tension, disappointment, frustration, and grief.
We sometimes forget that this tension is a part of Advent too. Before the fullness of time, before any teenagers or old women were pregnant, there was only the distant possibility that God would intervene on behalf of creation. There was a promise, yes, but promises can feel improbable when you don’t know what the future holds. God’s salvation wasn’t readily apparent; people had to actively hope for it. It was only this process of cultivating hope in the midst of waiting, that God’s people could recognize the coming of Christ in their midst.
It is vital that the church today force itself to acknowledge that period of Advent as well. The church calendar gives us the opportunity to go back and experience a time before we knew the story would end in birth and death and resurrection, a time when faithful people learned how to cling to hope in the midst of tension, disappointment, frustration, and grief. This Advent addresses people’s deepest struggles and longings truthfully. There are people in our world who desperately need the church to push back against the sentimentalized, commercialized, shallow version of Christmas that is ubiquitous from November 1 to December 25. That version of Christmas doesn’t heal the depths of the broken soul—it merely puts an ill-fitting band-aid on the wound until the next frantic holiday cycle can come back around.
I believe that Advent holds the key to what the church has to say to America in this day and age. Advent teaches us to expect hope even when things as they are lead you to despair. The world is not as it should be—but the kingdom we are called to inhabit offers so much more. Can we force ourselves to sit in the tension of not knowing what God is up to without moving too quickly to the birth of Jesus this year? Can we open up the divine space where people have permission to feel the breadth of human emotion and discover how God speaks in the midst of their pain? If we can, I believe we will discover what it truly means to be people expecting hope this Advent.