Last year as I was researching the season of Advent, I was surprised to find out the celebration wasn’t explicitly linked to Christmas until the middle ages. The church originally used this time to anticipate the second coming of Jesus. It wasn’t until centuries later the focus became more on the birth of Jesus.
What we have today is a season leading up until Christmas, focused on the already and the not yet. It is joining in the anticipation of Israel for the long expected messiah as well as the return of Jesus, when he will make all things right.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
This season, like Lent, is not about the celebration, but finding hope in what is to come. It is a time when we purposefully acknowledge this world is not where we belong, and we are waiting for Jesus to return like he said he would. Just like the promise of his birth foretold through the prophets, we know and look forward to the return he promised.
Over time, Advent for many of us has disappeared. It has become the pre-celebration of Christmas. We have Christmas parties and feasting throughout the time leading up to Christmas. It becomes about family and loved ones, being together and finding joy in this life. In many ways, this is contrary to what the season is supposed to be.
Hope can be a hard thing to hold on to. When our hope is in and for things in this life, there is a possibility of disappointment. That does not mean we should altogether do away with hoping for things in this life. God shows up in this life and not just in the next one. But our hope in the return of Jesus, and what he will bring, cannot be taken away. In fact, when we place our hope in his return, trials only increase our joy as we find our hope stands true.
Anticipation for the return of Jesus is focused on a time beyond this earth. It is built on what Jesus has already bought, but only as the first fruits of what is to come. Anticipation for the return of Jesus can be tough because there is no countdown clock. We think, How long must I wait for the promise to be fulfilled? It is like an engagement with no wedding date set.
The focused wait of Advent is meant to tune our hearts and minds to the kingdom of God. When our hope is set on things in this life, that is where our focus will be. When our hearts and minds are set on the return of Jesus, that is what we work towards, what we talk about, where our treasure is.
Advent helps reset our focus. The feast of Epiphany will follow, a season of celebrating Jesus’ presence with us. Emmanuel, God with us, came in the form of a baby to bring light into the darkness and restore us back to relationship with our maker.
I remember one of my mom’s sisters and her family would not decorate the house for Christmas until Christmas Eve. They wouldn’t mix the season of Advent with the season of Christmas. I didn’t understand this as a child. Why put off the celebration of something you love? What good does that do?
As I have grown older, I have come to know the greatest of treasures here does not compare to what we are looking forward to in Jesus’ return. He will bring an end to our pain and sorrow. The best celebration here will pale in comparison to a day in the house of the Lord. Advent reminds us that living for today is meaningless. It helps renew our hope and place it in something more deserving.
Advent should align us not to proper celebration for Christmas, but in placing our hope correctly, in something that is not temporary but everlasting. The practice of Advent produces hope in something that is not a present reality but eternal, not looking forward to the presents under the Christmas tree, or even the time around the table with friends and family.
As the rest of the world looks to the treasures in this world in this season, it may be harder to focus on what is to come, but abstinence is where we find joy in the hope. When we find opposition in our hope, it builds our character and strength.
Traditionally advent was a time of fasting and prayer. Like Lent, it was a time to abstain from the treasures of this life to find the treasure of real value. Wow! We have come a long way from this practice!
Why not give some things up this Advent season? It’s not too late to stop the Christmas movie binge, or to save those cookies for Christmas. Why not wait in this season? Why not spend some time exploring what life will be like when Jesus returns? Why not focus in this season on what is eternal? Why not share our hope with others, telling of what Jesus brought, and the hope we have in his return?
This is not a season of punishment, but reward. To find our hope realigned is in itself a treasure, one not easily stolen or dismayed.