Watching and Waiting
There are two children in my life for whom I have prayed with more faithfulness and fervency than almost anything else in my life. One, adopted from Ghana, was added to my prayer list when I met her parents four years ago and agreed to run a half-marathon to fund-raise for her adoption. (What?!?! A half-marathon?!?! What was I thinking?!?) A year after that, I got the text message saying, “We’ve got a referral!” and it was another 6 months, two transatlantic trips, and a lot of waiting before she was home for good. The other was added to my prayer list right around the same time, when his mom shared with me her struggle with infertility, and it was a couple more years before I was able to meet this sweet, sweet boy that I can’t imagine my life without. Holding him for the first time was like holding a promise.
And in both cases, I prayed with desperation and tears, wondering why God, in all his justice and mercy, wouldn’t give these two couples I love the children they so desperately desired- children they felt God had told them they would have. I alternated between calm, “Jesus, in your perfect timing, bring these babies home,” and angry, tear-filled prayers of “Why aren’t they here yet!?!” And although I’m a little embarrassed to put my devotional tantrums on display for you all here, I’m willing to be a little sheepish for the sake of a picture. I think my prayer life in the season of waiting for these two little people is a picture of the season of Advent.
Advent means coming. In the Church, we use the word “advent” to describe the season that brings us to Christmas. And while it’s easy to think of Advent as simply “Pre-Christmas,” I really do believe that Advent is an opportunity all unto itself- a season that allows us to understand who God is and what our life with Him can look like through an entirely new lens.
Anticipation and waiting are the markers of Advent. We remember what it was like to wait for the promised Messiah, having only the words of the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah to know what to watch for. And we actively anticipate the return of Jesus to set all things right and usher in a new heaven and a new earth. But we can’t remember and anticipate and wait without acknowledging that there’s something wrong to be set right. That there was something broken that needed a Messiah. That in order for the people who walked in great darkness to have seen a great light, they first had to walk in some deep, deep darkness.
And so we Advent. I don’t know that it’s actually a verb, but someone grab a calendar and mark today as the day it officially entered the lexicon as such. We wait, and we watch, and we hope, but we also mourn, and we dream, and we wonder. All of those things are contained in Advent. What might it be like for all things to be made new? What role do we have as individuals and as a community in meeting people in the brokenness and introducing them to the Light? Our series for Advent and Christmas is called “Send Us Your Light” because we know that’s what God was up to in sending Jesus, because we desperately need that light still, and because in some miraculous way, God has told us that He is sending us as His light in the world. But all of that is only possible when we see the darkness.
I desperately need Advent. I need to have room in my spiritual life for the calm prayers of “Jesus, in your perfect timing, set all things right” And the desperate, tear-filled prayers of “ Why haven’t you come back yet?!?” We see both in the Bible- from patient, wise, hopeful Simeon (read his story in Luke 2:25-35) to depressed, angry David (check out Psalm 42). We sing both in the lilting “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and the desperate “Even so come, Lord, Jesus come.” And I hope that you feel like you have space to pray both as we enter this Advent journey together.
This weekend we will provide a guide will provide some really great ways to engage the season of Advent as more than just Pre-Christmas, and then to enter into the season of Christmas ready to celebrate the Light that has come— giving words and space to acknowledge that the darkness doesn’t diminish the joy of the light. In fact, I would argue that it makes the light shine even brighter.
Praying with you this Advent season,
P.S. Next week, we’re looking at the prayers of those who have been abandoned. If you have a story of your experience of abandonment and are willing to have that story shared in a sermon, please e-mail 3-5 sentences (about 100 words) to Pastor Mark by Tuesday. Thank you!