--Pastor Jamey Nichols
There are only a few select words which, on their own, capture the essence of Advent. This year I’m especially fond of the word expectation.
November 2018 has certainly had its difficulties, but I expect things will improve. The permanence of my dad’s absence is wholly unfamiliar, but I expect I will adapt to it. It is Michelle’s and my turn to host the Nichols’ extended-family Christmas this year, but I expect it’s for the best. My bereavement leave is coming to an end, and my ambition for getting back in the saddle hasn’t fully blossomed, but I expect it will. My father’s body lies buried in the earth on the hill near my house, but I expect it will revive in the resurrection on the last day. Thankfully, my own body is healthy at the moment, but the inevitability of decay causes me to expect my health won’t last forever. My immediate family has endured the wounds of grief, and I expect it won’t be the last time. My mood is predominately melancholic of late, but I expect my joyous outlook will gradually return. There is much that is broken in this beautiful aching world, but I fully expect God’s is causing all things to work together for His good purposes.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the month of November, it’s how grateful I am for my church family. We’ve been showered with supportive overtures in the forms of food, cards, memorial contributions, letters, calls, and texts. I often say at funerals something like, “Walking in grief is hard enough on its own. How much more if we walked utterly alone!” The depth of that truth is more real now than I could’ve expected. I have spent a great deal of time by myself in the past four weeks, but I haven’t been alone. As part of the omnipresence of our faithful Redeemer, I’ve been buoyed by the availability of friendship-on-the-ready and by the prayers of those who love my family and me. Words cannot express how wonderful these gifts have been. Thank you! In the past many years, our church relationships have been one of my greatest blessings, and I expect that will not change.
Diving into a piece of chocolate cake while a steaming plate of meat and potatoes sits before you is a lot like skipping days 1 thru 24 and jumping straight to December 25. Sure, you can do it, but it cheapens the dessert just a little. Even moreso, it annihilates expectation! Consider what a curbing of great joy would occur if a decision to have a baby was realized after waiting 40 minutes instead of 40 weeks? Expectation is an important ingredient to joy’s fullest realization. Expectation, in its most glorious state, is living with hopeful assurance of a future reality. In the meantime, that hopeful assurance has power to create a present reality full of its own delight. Consider the state of heart and mind for an expectant mother readying the nursery. Or, what thrill often fills the hearts of grandparents awaiting the arrival of their out-of-state kids and grandkids? And then there are the weeks leading up to a long-awaited return of a deployed soldier or the blessed matrimony so long in the planning. In these and other instances, expectation is part of the excitement. In fact, instant gratification is nice from time to time but ultimately toxic when experienced too often. Patience is still a fruit of the Spirit and the soul that never waits is often ill-tempered. Impatience, ingratitude, and impertinence are injurious to human flourishing, and irritable waiting is expectation of a most joyless sort. Expectation, when properly understood, allows us to keep an eye on the future while waiting contentedly in the present. The yet-to-come is certainly better in some way than the here-and-now else we’d be indifferent about the future. Even so, the here-and-now is not loathsome—especially not when the yet-to-come looms like springtime’s promise.
When it comes to the season of Advent, we are (in a sense) pretending the yet-to-come. Even though the Christ was already born 2,000 years ago, Advent helps us to remember what it’s like to be expectant. Advent is sort of a play about joyful waiting, but it isn’t make-believe. It’s a reenactment. Just as we love to sit and browse old photo albums, Advent is about remembering the time before there was Christmas. We tune our memories (and, our hearts!) to that era when Messiah was merely an expectation rooted in the promises of God. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation . . .” (Zechariah 9:9). It is in the rehearsal of humanity’s greatest expectation where we find consolation for immediate and far lesser vexations. Our greatest longing, already satisfied, will be celebrated on the 25th. Until then, Advent helps us to wrap up all other expectations into the memory of our once greatest expectation and to delight ourselves in the faithfulness of the One who is not slow in keeping his promises.
Happy Advent, FCC