Before our daughter was in Kindergarten she attended a Christian preschool near our home. Each year at Christmas-time the children would put on a program for the parents, grandparents, and younger siblings. It was one of those annual “photo-op” experiences where we would enjoy our children as they sang for us and showed us their Christmas crafts.
One year during the presentation the children sang a song that had the lyric: Advent is a time for waiting, not a time for celebrating.
I cannot remember the tune of the song, and I am probably the only one in my family who remembers hearing it sung. I suppose I remember it because at the time it struck me funny to hear this admonition about ecclesiastical protocol melodiously announced through the voices of three and four year olds who probably had little or no idea about the meaning of what they were singing. It was sort of humorous to hear these children dutifully advising their parents not to fall prey to the secular culture’s profane practice of celebrating Christmas before its time.
There are many Christian traditions where it is all but anathema to sing a Christmas carol in worship prior to Christmas Eve. Like the rigid Sabbath practices of some denominations, this admonition about Advent being a time for waiting rather than celebrating felt a bit like religious finger wagging warning us not to offend God. In my mind it was yet another example of how we Christians can, in an effort to get it “right”, make a mess of things and end up getting it wrong. In the attempt to call us all to think about something bigger than shopping, sleigh bells, Santa Claus and snow, we were told what not to do rather than called to contemplate and anticipate the advent of a reality that is “abundantly far more than we can ask for or imagine.”
The Advent invitation to wait for the Lord and watch for God’s appearing is not to consign ourselves to a place of joyless darkness where we stop all activity, shiver in the cold of a “bleak mid-winter,” and contemplate how bad things are. Advent is indeed about waiting, but it is also about celebrating, because it is about an active and expectant waiting. In Advent we do not wait for an unknown; we wait for something about which we are certain. We rise to our tip toes in anticipation and strain to see that speck of light on the horizon, that dimly burning wick, which provides the spark that ignites the light that cannot be extinguished by darkness. The waiting we do at Advent is like waiting for the dawn. We know it is going to come, but it always seems to take a little longer to get here than what we might desire.
Advent teaches us how to endure the wait. It teaches us how to joyously anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promise. The stories that frame our Advent sermon series this year are about folks who are waiting actively. They show us how to make ourselves ready for God’s revelation of himself in our world. As we sit with Zechariah, Mary, the Shepherds, the Magi, and Simeon this Advent and Christmas Season, they can become ourteachers. From them we can learn how to watch and listen for the persistent invitations to life that God is sending our way. Advent is indeed a time for waiting, but it is also a season of celebrating. So get to your tip toes and look through the darkness for that speck of light. Or as the Psalmist sings, “Be strong, let your hearts take courage and wait for the Lord.”
Dave Rohrer, 11/27/2016