Everywhere you look, people are longing for the coming of Christmas. In a world weary of the death and chaos of the last 2 years, the holiday season offers an opportunity to find a glimmer of hope and renewal. Even in its most secular forms, Christmas offers a vision of hope in a dark world. The symbols, music, and traditions we’ve formed over the centuries offer us a sense of stability in a world that feels out of place. Right now, more than ever, we know we need Christmas. 

But in the Church calendar, an important and equally necessary season precedes Christmas: Advent. Advent literally means arrival, and it gives us an opportunity every year to reexamine our hope and ask a vital question: what are we waiting for? What lies ahead of us that gives us meaning right where we are? For Christians, Advent is about the hope and longing for the coming Messiah, the One who would step into our darkness and put the world to rights. 

Unlike the jubilance of Christmas, Advent calls us to a far more introspective posture. In our modern culture, we’ve been trained to believe that waiting for anything is an inconvenience. But there’s something that is formed in us when we turn our hearts towards a future that we are longing for. When we allow ourselves to feel the ache of what has not yet come, something begins to change in us in the here and now. This is what hope is, after all – a future that is powerful enough to sustain us in the present.

And it’s that kind of hope we need right now. Almost 21 months into a global pandemic, we’ve all known the weariness of isolation, fear, and the constant stream of unsettling news. We’ve seen political battles, a highly contentious election, explosions of racism and white supremacist violence, and the continued polarization that plagues our country. With all of the upheaval, it might seem like Christmas is a necessary escape from reality. Yet I’d argue that instead of escape, we are perfectly positioned to meet God in our realities through the season of Advent.

Right now, we all have things we are hoping for: the end of the pandemic, the return of some sense of normal, financial stability… the list could go on and on. Advent doesn’t ask us to suppress these longings for the sake of a facade of happiness, but rather embrace them in order to take hold of a deeper hope. It is a season that welcomes tears, questions, and aching for change. It points to the places in Scripture that make space for that longing and point us to the source of its fulfillment. In short, Advent gives us permission to feel – and to bring what we feel to God.

This Sunday, we begin our journey from Advent to Pentecost, following the Church calendar along with millions of other believers across the world. We’re moving into the first Sunday of Advent – and opportunity as a Church to lead us forward through our longings to their fulfillment – the baby born in a manger that awaits us in the days ahead. Until then, I pray we don’t rush past our longings and pains, remembering in Advent that we’re welcomed as we are in the ache of anticipation. Together, we’ll remember that we have a future that is powerful enough to sustain us in the present, and we’ll walk together to take hold of this hope. See you Sunday morning! 

Image from Glenn Packiam, author of Blessed, Broken, Given