Advent: Two Kinds of Waiting at Once

During the long December weeks of Advent, children anticipate the joy of Christmas morning. And they’re right to do so: our traditional Christmas celebrations—the presents, the food, the songs—properly echo the spiritual joy we feel at knowing that God is with us, Emmanuel, here to save us.

But as adults, we learn to long for more than brightly-wrapped gifts under the tree. With adulthood comes a keen awareness of how broken the world is. We see, in ourselves and in those we love, the deep chasms of hurt caused by sin—our own sins and the sins of others. We cannot wake up and turn on our phones without being confronted by the wages of sin; stories of murder and rape and terrorism haunt our headlines.

These are the wages of sin: death, and death for everyone.

And so we are filled with longing. We long, not just for joy, but for a judge. We long for it all to be made right.

Judgment is not a popular theme in today’s culture—or, at least, it’s not popular until someone feels wronged. Then, we forget about tolerance and become all about judgment. We want the villain-of-the-hour to be punished and shamed and made to know how wrong he is.

In our eagerness to punish, we often become something ugly. Our thirst for vengeance hardens our hearts and leads us to hate and scorn.

But what if there was a judge who could mete out justice—punishment and reward alike—with no ugliness and no error? A judge who would hear the cries of the hungry, see the sorrow of the oppressed, and heed the pleas of the downtrodden? And not only heed them, but rectify them? What if there was a judge who could make all things right?

That is what we long for; that is what we hope for. And, in Advent, that is what we affirm that we eagerly expect.

How to Wait Well

Jesus’ first arrival made way for his second. Because of his incarnation, and because of his willing sacrifice of himself, when Jesus comes again to judge the earth, his people will be ready for him. They will be washed and made clean in his own blood, graciously shed from the body he took on as an embryo in his mother’s womb. The incarnation and the second coming are wound together.

So we focus on the truth of both of those arrivals in this Advent season. We do this by:

1.) Repenting. As we wait for our Savior, we contemplate our need for him. We look at our sins, and we repent. As the old prayer, the Te Deum, says, “We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge; we therefore pray thee, help thy servants.” A proper response to coming judgment is to cry out for mercy!

2.) Remembering. Advent is a good season for rereading the Old Testament — for remembering God’s promises to his people, and his faithful fulfillment of them.

3.) Rejoicing. Our God is a God who both forgives our sins and fulfills his promises! With confident belief in Jesus’ incarnation, and joyful anticipation of his return, out of the same mouths that cried for mercy, we can and should sing hymns of praise!

May this Advent season, coming as it does in the midst of tumult and sorrow (the constant state of this fallen world), find you making space both to mourn and to rejoice. May the Lord’s goodness make you more able to name sin as the horror it truly is, but may the truth of his incarnation also give you the courage to believe in his promise: that he will certainly come again, and that he will make all things right.