Stepping Into The Longing of Advent
I don't know about you, but I've never really been much of an advent celebrator. I grew up in a home where we prepared for Christmas. We bought presents. We wrapped presents. We made a bazillion (this is not an exaggeration) kinds of cookies.
Advent candles and pausing was reserved for one hour on Sunday morning. The priests lit the advent candles while we watched. And then we left to do more shopping, and trimming, and baking.
As an adult, I've changed my church tradition. I go to a church where advent is a big deal. Not to buy presents or trim trees or bake cookies. Advent is a big deal because it's a season to pause and intentionally prepare for the reason for the season, if you will. We pause to prepare for God with us. We pause to be intentional about celebrating the birth of Jesus and His work on our behalf ever since.
While I've changed my tradition to making a bigger deal of advent, not much of my practice has changed. I have still relegated the candle lighting and the pausing to one hour at church spending the rest of my time with the usual activities leading up to Christmas.
I've never bought an advent wreath myself. As a single adult, lighting the advent candles at home, by myself with my dog - somehow doesn't have the same significance as with your family. Besides, Moose doesn't seem to appreciate the deep meaning in pausing.
One year, our church set up a family advent wreath craft. We could go with our families and make our own advent wreath and light it home. Refusing to be boxed in by the fact that I was a family of one, I dragged my friend Katrina to make the wreath with me (actually she made it while I socialized). Then I made her come to my house and light each candle with me on the appropriate weeks.
To be honest, while I gave it the college try, I'm not sure that was any more meaningful than watching other people at church light it. Who knew?
Advent is About Longing
But for some reason, everything has changed this year. No, I did not go buy an advent wreath. And to be honest, I've only been watching the candle lighting from my seat in the pew.
But this year, I'm leaning into the true meaning of advent...
I read a blog post recently by one of my new fave authors, Annie Downs. I first "met" Annie - and when I say met I mean watched her on the IF: Gathering telecast. She is single and in her 30s (I think). If she would just come to Minnesota to have coffee with me I could get these details ironed out!
What drew me to her was her honesty about being single. THe IF: Gathering did a little interview with Annie and her friend Joy about being single and how the church can walk with singles. Cutting to the bottom line: sometimes we deaden our hearts to the longing we have. When God wants us to lean in we lean out to protect our hearts.
Back to my point, Annie wrote this recent article about being single and not celebrating Advent. She had me at hello. But then she said something that peaked my interest. She decided to be intentional about celebrating advent. Why? Because Advent is about longing.
Longing for God to step in. Longing for a Savior. Longing for redemption. Longing for a sign.
As I look at the first Advent (the year Jesus was born), I see the Jewish people experiencing a longing you and I could never imagine. They were in the land of the in between. In between God's last words from a prophet and his promise of a redeemer. In between a land ruled by the king of Israel and Roman rule. In between a God who directed His people through his servants and the peace that comes from God with us.
And as I look at my own longing, what better way to spend the weeks leading up to the celebration of God with us than to reflect on longing.
Advent is God With Us
So what are you longing for this Christmas? If you're single like me, you may be longing for an end to the single life and someone special to come into your life. (See the Hallmark movie A Boyfriend for Christmas for some inspiration) Or you may be longing for a restoration in your marriage. Or longing for a child to return home. Or to his or her faith. You may be longing for a new job or reconciliation in your family. Longing feels, well like longing.
Yet, God has a word for you this Advent. God with you. God is in your longing.
The thing is, just like my "friend" Annie spoke of - you and I tend to run from our longing. We prefer not to experience the waiting and disappointment and well idea that the answer to our longing requires faith.
The only way to find peace in our longing is to lean into it.
We must be brave with our hearts. We must be honest with ourselves. And we must trust the God who created our longings with the broken pieces of our hearts.
To be honest, leaning in doesn't always get rid of the longing. I know that's the answer we want. It's not, however, the answer we need.
You see, it's in the longing that we find clarity on what's important, to quote my friend Phil. Clarity on what we are really longing for. Clarity on where to go with our longing. And clarity on how to find joy, just like the people of the original Christmas story, in the midst of our longing. It's in longing that we discover that Jesus is all we need.
I want to experience this Advent differently. I don't want to experience 4 weeks of preparing for presents and family and baked goods. All good and God-given gifts. What I want to be different is the idea of experiencing my longing. To not run away but to run toward my longing. And in the process of running toward it finding God right there where He has always been.
God with us.
I'd love to hear your own story about longing and experiencing God with Us this holiday season....