A little girl sits in front of her family’s Christmas tree, looking at the gifts she unwrapped a few hours ago. Though happy with her new toys, her excitement for the season started waning soon after she opened her last gift.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and that girl, now a mother, sees the same let-down in the face of her own little girl. Although they both know that Christmas is about Jesus, they feel a sense of sadness now that it’s over.
Have you felt it? That sigh, that dream of Christmas that never quite comes true. If only I rush around enough, if only I get that shiny thing I want, if only my family would get along, then Christmas would be perfect this year. And this ache deep inside would go away.
We all have an ache, a longing that won’t go away, no matter how we try to fill it up with stuff or to stuff it down.
This ache is sometimes highlighted by the beauty of the Christmas season:
- short daylight hours giving way to longer nights;
- falling temperatures and sometimes falling snow;
- steaming stews and spiced brews
- cozy clothing, crackling fires;
- trees with twinkling lights, shiny sights, and fragrant-sense; and
- sacred music celebrating an ancient, yet annual, event cloaked in mystery, quiet, and peace.
Deep in our hearts, we don’t really yearn for the latest iToy, the hottest thing on wheels, or the house of our dreams.
Rather, we long for all to be made right: in our hearts, our lives, our world.
We long for the gift that has already been given, the best deal of the season—or any season.
The birth of Christ set in motion a plan that no one could have dreamed: the Gospel. The power of the Gospel not only redeems those of us who believe it; it also enables us to practice it on a daily basis, to grow in Christ, and to live lives that bring glory to God.
The Gospel makes living at peace with a holy God possible—something we could never pull off on our own. The cross of Good Friday is a stark reminder that peace with God began with his gift to us.
The season of Advent is observed on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. If we pay attention during this time, God can teach us about patience and waiting in the midst of our restlessness.
Advent means “coming” or “arrival”, and it urges us not to give up hope, no matter how long our longing in this life remains unfulfilled. So we remember God’s faithfulness in the past and look forward to His faithfulness in the future.
His first arrival was as the humble and helpless babe of a young peasant girl. Thirty-three years later, he ascended to heaven as the risen Christ. Someday he will come again in heart-stopping, jaw-dropping power and glory. It’s a promise we can hold onto, a vow he made that cannot be broken.
And then, somehow, he will make all things right.
When we are in his presence for all time, the deep longings of our hearts in this life will be satisfied. We will be Home. The ache will be gone, and in its place will be love, joy, and peace the depths of which we cannot imagine.
In the meantime, here, the beauty of the season gives us a glimpse of our future, and the beloved story of Christ’s coming renews our hope, our confident expectation, in him. And so our hearts join the multitudes singing:
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989