Have you ever watched the videos of especially festive Black Friday celebrations? The ones where the doors of a big box retail store open early in the morning to crushing waves of thousands of people stampeding and clamoring over one another to get the best deals on stuff.
I find this phenomenon illustrative of the reality of our world and the state of the human heart: our world is broken and we long to see it repaired, our hearts are empty and desperate and we are longing for someone or something bigger than us to come and save us.
The commercial enterprise of the “Holiday Season” (which now seems to start as early as late September) is so successful because it speaks into the longings and hopes we feel as 21st century humans. “Just buy this thing,” the holiday season enterprise promises, “and you will be happy!” Consumerism always has a shiny looking, readily-available, concrete object that promises to satisfy our longings and bring our hopes to fruition. The problem with this—that I’ve experienced and I’m sure you have as well—is that these consumeristic saviors never work. They can’t deliver. They can’t heal our hearts or make us new.
If you find yourself in that place of unsatisfied longing and unrealized hope right now, I have good news for you: you aren’t alone! Such feelings aren’t new. Dating back through the history of the Church and even back to Old Testament Judaism, the people of God have always been a people familiar with longing, a people clinging to not-yet-realized hopes. The nation of Israel in exile, longed for the coming of God’s promised Messiah, the one who would rescue her from foreign captivity, heal her wounds, forgive her iniquities, and re-establish her in the land of promise. The Christian Church recognized that in Jesus, Israel’s Messiah had come, and that through the cross and resurrection, Jesus had enacted a spiritual rescue, not only for Israel, but for all people who would put their faith in Him. This same Jesus gave us glimpses through the way He lived His life, of what a world ordered under God’s benevolent Kingship would look like: no more tears, no more disease, no more sin, no more pain, no more division, and no more death. Jesus, 40 days after His resurrection, ascended into heaven and promised to one day come again and establish, in full, the Kingdom He had begun to reveal in part. Ever since, Christians throughout the centuries have longed for the second coming of Christ. It is Christ’s return that will bring the realization of the Christian hope for a world made new where people will live in intimate friendship with God again.
It is for these reasons that the season of Advent emerged in the church calendar. Advent is a penitential season, indicated in worship by the color purple and observed over the course of 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas, in which the Church actively calls to mind the first coming of the Christ child in the Bethlehem manger, and looks forward to the day when the victorious Risen Christ will come again to make all things new. Advent is a journey toward Christmas that is marked by the lighting of candles along an Advent wreath. These candles—symbols of Christ’s light—are lit against a backdrop of comparative darkness that represents the brokenness and need of our world. As each candle is lit, the light grows brighter and the darkness is pushed back. As Christ comes into our hearts, our own darkness is lessened, our own wounds our healed, and our own longings are satisfied.
In so many ways, Advent is a remedy to our Black Friday woes. By observing Advent, and letting its solemn, peaceful, and prayerful rhythms animate our lives in the days leading up to Christmas, we find rest from the manic motion of the Holiday Season enterprise. We find space to long for a Savior that can truly satisfy, and hope in His coming again which is true and sure.
In Advent, the Church also prepares for the coming of Christ. The actions and motivations of such preparation can also serve as an antidote to the anxiety-producing rhythms of preparing one’s home or family for holiday festivities. The spiritual preparations we make during Advent are marked by increased prayer for our world, our nations, our cities, our churches, and our families. They are marked by repentance where we call to mind the things in our hearts and lives that are not of the Lord so that we can confess them, seek Christ’s forgiveness, and join with Him as forgiven ones to continue to reveal His Kingdom here on Earth and make ready for His coming again. When we practice such postures of prayer, repentance, and expectation over the weeks leading up to Christmas, Christmas’s joy and celebration are all the more powerful.
So if you are feeling restless, burnt-out, hopeless, or overcome with longing for something real, I invite you to find a church community with whom you can experience the journey of Advent. If you’re here in Cincinnati and don’t have such a community, come and join us at The Mission Cincinnati for worship every Sunday at 10 AM at the Evanston Recreation Center (3204 Woodburn Ave. Cincinnati, OH 45207)! On Thursday evenings at 7 PM during Advent (Dec. 7th, 14th & 21st), we will be gather for special Advent prayer and communion services in homes across our city. If you would like to join us for one of these special prayer services and need address information, please contact Derek at firstname.lastname@example.org we will give you all the info you need to join us. We can’t wait to journey with you through this beautiful season. May we all experience more and more of Christ’s presence, power, and love in each day!
May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you and give you peace!