Now that the Christmas season is over and we are on the eve of a new year, I have some time to reflect on what I can only call “The Ache of Advent”. The word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning a coming, approach, or arrival. For Christians, the weeks leading up to Christmas have been a waiting for the Messiah to come.
I generally love the Christmas season, but some years are tougher then others. As a slightly impatient person, my struggles often come in the form of waiting. Many us are waiting for something. Maybe we are waiting for a better job or a promotion. Maybe we are waiting for a relationship to get better or reconciled. Maybe we are waiting for the pain to end from unmet expectations or tragic loss. Whatever the case, the season is a season of waiting. The new year is on the horizon and the advent season allows us not only to wait for the coming of Christ, but also wait on new experiences and relationships in the coming year.
In pentecostal churches I often hear pastors speak of the coming of a “breakthrough”. I take that to mean the breakthrough of whatever is holding us back from becoming or pursuing all that God has for us. The promise of breakthrough is powerful and hopeful for those of us who are waiting on change to happen. The Holy Spirit brings freedom as we breakthrough that which holds us captive.
The Hebrew definition of salvation is freedom from captivity. Advent is the waiting for the arrival of the Messiah who will free us from our captivity. We can be held captive by any number of things. Captivity can come from our insecurities and fears, our doubts, external oppressors, internal demons, social expectations and a number of other constraints. Advent is the season where we wait and hope on the Messiah to free us here on earth as it is in heaven. This is the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
However, while we Christians believe that Christ is our freedom, it does not preclude us from the experience of the ache of advent. There is pain in the waiting and often we try to answer the ache ourselves. The stores lure us into thinking that joy and happiness will come from giving or getting that perfect gift. Facebook can deceive us into thinking everyone else in the world is happy as we scroll through the newsfeed of people getting engaged or having babies or other happy events. Buying things to make us feel better, dating someone to fill temporary voids, watching Bridget Jone’s Diary over and over are some ways to deal with the ache. But this year, instead of numbing the ache, I have decided that the ache is actually a good thing. The ache of advent is a season of lament and a recognition that we are in need of so much more then the world can offer us. This year, I chose to embrace the ache.
I am grateful for the churches who hold “Longest night” services. This practice of lament is a welcome space to be embraced by the church as a recognition that Emmanuel, God is truly with us. God is with us in our pain and darkness just as God is with us in our joy.
For the single person, the ache of advent can come in the the form of longing for intimacy with another person. Whether physical or emotional, this ache can make someone (okay…me) want to jump out of their skin. Married friends are quick to remind me that marriage can be lonely as well. Our insatiable hearts desire to be known and to be loved regardless of whether or not we have a spouse or an abundance of family and friends. The Triune God created us in relationship and for relationship with God and with one another. As I’ve talked with some lonely married friends, we can agree that it is only Jesus Christ that can truly fill our insatiable hearts.
As we turn our calendars to 2016 my prayer for you is to embrace the seasons of ache as a reminder that only God is enough. With this embrace, God welcomes us with open arms. As my friend, Joshua Beckett has reminded me, there is beauty in the ache. The ache points us to the One who knows us intimately and loves us like no other can.
The ache of Advent comes with a promise. The One whom we wait for has come and will come again. Even if our aches come in the form of desired relationships or new life outcomes, the Messiah has come to realign our hearts to God who loved us first and actively loves us deeply in this season.
Happy New Year!