Advent: the waiting

Anticipation is half the joy. At least, when you know the thing that is coming is really really good. 

It was a week before Christmas last year that I learned I was expecting our third child. This child was something we had been hoping for and anticipating; even as the thought of going through all it takes to get a child here, and especially all it took to get our second child here, was more than a little terrifying. 

But still those two pink lines showed up exactly one week before Christmas, and as the waiting to celebrate the holiday and the significance of God incarnate ended, a new waiting began.

It brings fresh to mind the way we wait in the dark. So often. For someone or something. Sometimes we aren’t even sure which. Our lives can feel like a fog more often than not; but we have this secret hope, and this light on each and every step, and we take them. Even though we aren’t at all sure where it will take us, that hope carries us. 

The hope of Advent is ultimately the hope we all carry; the hope for a Savior. Every human heart, whether believing in Jesus as Lord or not, hopes for a future. For the fulfillment of longing; for the arrival of joy. It’s pregnant within us, and no matter how jaded and discouraged we get sometimes, I rarely dies. If it does, that’s when you know you are in real trouble. A human heart cannot live without hope. At least not here.

We have been studying 1 Corinthians with the Women’s Bible Study at church, an just a few weeks ago we talked about how there won’t be hope in Heaven. Because all our deepest longings will have been fulfilled, we won’t need hope. There won’t be faith either, because our faith will be sight. You don’t need faith to believe in something when it’s right there, in flesh and blood, staring you in the face. 

Strange as it may sound, I think it took a little faith to know that Isaiah was going to be such a good gift. It seems foolish I know, for all children are a gift and I believe this to be true. But I didn’t know it enough. I knew it because I believed it, but now I have seen his eyes sparkle in good humor. I have smelled the sweetness of his breath. I have heard the iridescent sound of his laughter. I have kissed his face until he shrieked for joy, and I myself felt my heart full to absolute bursting with it. 

The waiting takes faith. The anticipation of the coming is joyful, but we rarely know enough of what the coming will look like to anticipate it properly. I couldn’t have known what a precious gift Isaiah would be, without knowing him. I couldn’t have known how redemptive and healing his birth would be, until I experienced the very real presence of the Lord during that laboring time, and he continued to lavish gift upon merciful gift, to me. We carry our hopes and our dreams, but we try not to let them carry us away, because we don’t want to be disappointed. And in a broken world, where God’s ways are so much higher and wiser than our own, I think it wise to hold our own plans loosely. But we need to learn this perspective; that we cannot even begin to fathom the joy that is to come.

Did Mary even know? As she carried this child and this promise for nine months in her womb. As she was given confirmations and signs from Elizabeth and Joseph. As the Lord prepared the way for his son to come into the world, in the most unusual way. 

I have seen birth in the hay before. Just this past April, my goat Carmela kidded in the straw of our loafing shed. It had been warm the day before, but that particular day it was windy and cold. The fresh straw smelled clean, but even still i couldn’t get her to lay down in the cleanest spot. And she just kept pawing the ground to make a space for her babies, but all she was actually doing was making things dirtier. I myself was 20 weeks pregnant, and I kept thinking how much I admired her zen…chewing her cud between pushes and contractions. But I did not at all envy her job of giving birth in the straw. Even with all the spare towels I could muster the whole scene was a gory mess when all was said and done. 

I’m sure this scene would not have been the one that Mary pictured for herself when she imagined giving birth to the son of God, even if she was a poor girl from Nazareth. Even a poor girl from Nazareth could have done better than a filthy stall. 

But that was how he came.

When the waiting was over, the way Jesus came was stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. He came in the lowest of ways, because he is the King of the lowly. And if a King stoops low, we all ought to stoop low.

It was the incarnation of the upside-down Kingdom of God. The world wasn’t expecting a Messiah to show up. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah, but they didn’t recognize him in the way he came or the way he carried himself. 

Jesus, never in a hurry. Never in a rush. Jesus slow and steady. Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus, the King of the Universe, and of the lowliest of sparrows. Jesus dying a torturous death in our place. We couldn’t have imagined how wonderful he was, until we were staring him straight in the face.

We still can’t can we? 

But just like my precious son Isaiah, the longer that we spend time with Jesus, the more we see what an incredible blessing he is. He doesn’t just save us, he heals us. He sees us. He knows us. And he leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of redeeming every last broken piece of our hearts. This is the ultimate gift of the with-ness of Jesus. Of Immanuel. 

We still don’t get it. Not really.  But someday, we will.

Someday we’ll understand fully, but for now we wait. We hold onto hope; onto faith. And just like you might stare at the ultrasound picture and imagined what it will be like,  you can stare into the scriptures and catch angles of him. Glimmers of him. The more you look, the more you make out the shape of him. 

So let the anticipation build, let it be pregnant within us. Let it mold us and make us, even as it unmakes us all together. Someday, we will see him face to face. But in the advent of his second coming, as in the advent celebration of his first coming, we wait.  

{Featured Photo c/o Anton Darius on Unsplash}

Last Night We Rested

It’s Sunday morning, and the sun is streaming like gold to color the bookshelf, the wall, the baby swing, in the most heavenly of light. 

This weekend was crazy for us, as I’m sure it was for many of you if you live in the United States. Giving Thanks with friends and family always takes an extra bit of effort, but it’s worth it. 

Our Sabbath preparations this week looked different then. We drank coffee, seriously considered eating pie for breakfast, and then packed up our kids bags to head up to Fort Collins. It wasn’t Black Friday anymore, which meant that fewer people were on the roads and in the stores, and we did make a couple pit stops to glance around for presents at stores in Denver where we don’t normally have the chance to shop. We stopped for lunch.

By the time we were nearly home, my husband was feeling more than usually exhausted. We thought he might be coming down with something. So because of wonderfully thoughtful inventors of gluten-free and sheep cheese frozen pizza that I recently discovered,(Capellos!) we made one final stop and then headed home for a Sabbath evening, even if we couldn’t have the whole day.

I told the kids we were going to have a pajama party. We all got in comfy clothes and pulled out some old quilts, because there are now too many of us to sit all on the couch with a comfortable elbow room between us. And we ate pizza and snuggled and watched The Santa Claus because it’s finally after thanksgiving and there is nothing holding us back from watching any Christmas favorites anymore. 

Partway through the movie, I felt a nudge from my tired husband. I looked at him, and he looked at me with such love in his eyes, that I knew that every part of tonight was exactly how it should have been. Our children were snuggled under a quilt eating pizza on wooden trays over the carpet. We were drinking tea with honey, and our baby boy was nursing happily. I think it was even snowing outside a little. 

It took a little serving on my part to make everything right, but don’t worry, I left the dishes for this morning. And Sabbath can sneak in in those beautiful moments when we slow down enough to do just exactly what our family needs.

I went to bed early, the suitcases splayed open on the floor and most of their contents displayed haphazardly on the floor in the search for the tooth brushes. The bathroom too was left quite a disaster, as the after-movie bath left half the floor flooded because of some rather *ahem* exuberant splashing on the part of my three year old.

But that is all okay. 

I think I learn a little about the heart of God in Sabbath as I help to create it for my family, as well as enjoy it myself. He calls us to lay all the things down for awhile. To stop and rest and be.

He makes us to remember that He alone is God. And that the world does not need my activity to turn it. He calls us back from our idols of work and productivity, a clean house and even from an easy next day sometimes. As variable as our idols are, the Sabbath is designed to help us root them out. 

My sister asked me on Friday what I thought about someone saying that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. (In reference to no longer needing to practice this part of the law.) 

And here is the essence of the thoughts I gave her, more or less: Of course. No one has to keep perfectly the law to be saved. That was the whole reason why God gave the law in the first place, to show us that apart from him we cannot keep the law and that we desperately need a Savior to make us right before God. But just because we don’t have to do something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t God’s heart for us, or that it wouldn’t benefit us. After all, Sabbath was a part of God’s design before sin even came into the world at all. On the Seventh Day God rested from all the work that he had done, and he called it Holy. I personally believe that the Sabbath is a provision from God, one that we are wise to accept and embrace for the sake of fruitfulness in our personal lives as well as continued zeal for the ministry to which God has called each of us. 

I’d like to dive into this more. The “Why?” behind Sabbath may just be the thing that is keeping you from practicing what I believe to be, one of the most fruitful habits of all.

The garden is under the weight of frost and snow. The goats have dried up from their milking. The darkness comes earlier each evening and stays longer each morning as the winter solstice approaches. And it’s time to rest. 

In the midst of Advent, rest may just be the thing that keeps us grounded and centered on the true meaning of Christmas, which though it has very little to do with Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause, has everything to do with being invited by a loving God into a season of joy and feasting as we reflect on how our God is a God who provides exactly what we need: and what we need more than anything is him with us. Immanuel. Rest can help us slow down enough to tune in to all these truths. 

Today we go to Church. And Isaiah will probably take a nap on my lap again. And when we get home we’ll probably take it slow for the second afternoon in a row, and that is perfectly good. Jesus was never in much of a rush, and you don’t have to let the hustle and hurry to celebrate his coming capture you more than his radical love for your precious soul does. 

Blessings on you this First Sunday of Advent. May you rest in the one who gave everything to make you his.