"I like the anticipation of Advent even more than Christmas Day." Linda has spoken these or similar words to me perhaps half a dozen times this year alone. She has the house all decorated, Christmas music playing on the radio, the aroma of cookies baking wafting through the house. At night, the lights twinkle from every room. The excitement builds as she wraps presents, we go caroling, and attend Christmas pageants and programs, culminating with our Christmas Eve service and the gathering that follows. Sunday we will worship together, gather as a family to exchange gifts, eat, celebrate Abi's birthday, and then suddenly, it's all over. Like a balloon pricked by a pin, all that buildup just pops and disappears, leaving us feeling as empty as the wrapping paper strewn around the living room.
Except for the people. They are still here, surrounding us with love. The stuff we give and receive is nice, but in the end, it's all just stuff. It's the people that matter. Pity those who never learn that.
But I wonder...perhaps our anticipation is for the wrong thing. We keep talking about the birth of a Baby, till we look into the manger on Christmas Day realizing that we've missed something. The Church got it right when in the creating of the liturgical calendar, Advent was more about the Second Coming of Christ than the first. In reality, we cannot replicate that first Christmas night. We can remember it, but cannot look forward to it. We look forward to Christ's Second Advent.
But I wonder...will we get it right? What if we are setting our hopes on the wrong object? Will we be as let down on that Day as we often feel as Christmas Day comes to an end? We are disappointed in Christmas when we assign to it significance it cannot bear. And if we look to Christ's Second Advent as merely a way to escape the troubles of this life, I fear we shall be quite disappointed. Christ's return is not about escaping, but fulfilling. And for it to be fulfilled, we must be involved in the work he is doing here and now. Jesus told us to work while it is day, for night is coming when we can work no more (John 9).
To be fulfilling instead of disappointing, Christ's Advent is something towards we look with eyes of faith, hearts of love, and hands and feet of service. I am grateful for that first Advent, for in it is the basis of our salvation. I am grateful also for his Second Advent that calls me to keep my eyes and heart set on things eternal instead of the (often alluring) baubles of this world.