by Jill McFadden
Last November I was driving along the interstate near Baltimore and passed a huge, majestic picture of a lion with the simple words: “He Returns.” Immediately there were chill bumps on my forearms and my heart raced just for a second. After this quick, visceral reaction I registered that is was only an advertisement for the upcoming release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie. I did want to see the movie, but Aslan’s second sequel was not firstly what prompted my reaction. I was fascinated to see that I had unthinkingly, automatically responded out of a deeper anticipation for Christ’s return—for the Lion of Judah to enter into history once again and make all things fully and finally right.
Now, to be honest, I do not regularly think about Christ’s return, nor do I regularly, eagerly pray for it. Often, when life is going on rather normally, when I don’t experience the world’s wrongs and woes in my day-to-day routine, I don’t long for someone to come in bringing justice and righteousness. I don’t always understand our world as needing it so desperately. So I was glad to see that, somewhere deep within me, there is a latent longing for the world’s savior to come again and finish what He started two thousand years ago. It would be great if this desire and longing were more often in the forefront of my consciousness—if I did eagerly pray and long for Christ’s return. And that is when the church calendar comes in very handy. Built into it are periods of refreshment, or conviction, or longing, or celebration, so that every year we have time set aside to focus on different aspects of the Christian story and of our devotion to its God. And it is this deep-seated anticipation for Christ’s coming that the season of Advent is designed to reawaken and to cultivate.
Advent is comprised of the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Derived from the Latin “to come,” it is a season that focuses on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. Like Lent, it is a time of repentance and renewal that precedes a great celebration. It provides an opportunity and encouragement to cultivate both an awareness of our need for a savior, and a deep longing for that savior.
Advent is a time of waiting, and in it, we inhabit two “waiting rooms.” First, we remember Israel’s long waiting, her eager expectation for the Messiah to come. We enter into Israel’s story, focusing on the words of the prophets who spoke of a savior to rescue Israel and make the wrong world right. And second, we remember that we too are still waiting—waiting for Israel’s Messiah to come again. Advent is a backward and forward looking time, stepping into Israel’s waiting as we anticipate a celebration of Christ’s first coming at Christmas, and, growing into our own waiting as we anticipate Christ’s return. He came and acted decisively to make a way for fallen people to be reconciled to God. But that was only the beginning. He will return and bring to a glorious culmination the salvation and renewal of the earth that he already set in motion in the Incarnation. The earth is still groaning. God’s people are still waiting, still crying out for Him to make all things new. And the true Lion will return…
This holiday season think about how you and those closest to you can prepare to celebrate Christmas well. Perhaps spend some time in the Old Testament, remembering Israel’s expectation for a Messiah to come. Make an Advent calendar at home, and as your children help count down the days until Christmas, talk about what it means to wait and to hope for Christ to come. If we don’t take proactive steps to celebrate Christmas as Christians, we will naturally celebrate it as consumers and miss a much better celebration invitation.