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Advent: Waiting in Hope

It's the most wonderful time of the year! At least that's what the song says. Sometimes it feels like the most expensive time of the year or the time of the year for the most junk mail and targeted marketing. As the Thanksgiving holiday signals the unofficial start to the Christmas season, it's time to break out the Christmas music playlists and prepare for the big celebration on December 25!

But first, it's Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Whatever Wednesday, etc... There's nothing wrong with a good sale or end-of-year giving (in fact I can think of an organization that'd be happy to indulge your desire to give a tax-deductible gift), but it's so easy to be distracted from the meaning of Advent. Contrary to popular belief, Advent isn't exclusively a time to build a Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar or eat a piece of candy every day waiting for Christmas (although I'd happily spend my time doing either). Advent is primarily about hope, and, in some cases, hope deferred.

Advent is a season for lament. The world in which we now live is not the world for which we were made. It's fundamentally broken. The renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow perhaps captured it best in his poem "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound the carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn the households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong, and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Longfellow, while visiting his son who was wounded in battle while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, reflected upon hearing the ringing of church bells on Christmas Day in 1863. There was a stark contrast between the sound of canon fire and that of church bells. Longfellow knew the brokenness of the world, the pain of loss (his wife had died in a fire just a few years prior), but he also knew that there was reason to hope. Peace will come upon the earth, and men will display goodwill to one another. This will not be accomplished by the inherent goodness of humanity but by the radical, life-changing grace of God.

The God who made the world enters into its story, becoming a man to take upon himself the burden of human sin. That same God-man who was born in a lowly manger, who grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men, who lived a sinless life, who healed the sick and forgave sinners, who died in the cruelest manner, on a Roman cross, whose body would not stay in the grave, who ascended to Heaven, who rules all of reality from his divine throne will return to set the world right. This is the ultimate hope of the Advent season! We (not so) patiently await Christmas morning each year as a rehearsal for waiting in hope for the return of Christ and his eternal reign upon a renewed earth, one of peace and goodwill.


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