Soon he would arrive! She felt expectant joy leaping in her soul in response to the leaping of the little one inside her, the unexpected treasure. That baby in her womb was moving now, stretching out to test the contours of this home, the strength of legs and feet. She sang a psalm to him and he went quiet, listening. Waiting was a gift of time to contemplate the miracle the angel had predicted: she was chosen, highly favored, as the vessel that would carry God’s own Son into the world. The forever king was coming! How could it be? She would wait and see, confident that this was indeed God’s doing. The Most High himself was with her – Gabriel’s words!
I love the season of Advent. It is indeed a time set aside to contemplate the wonder of God’s love: gifting himself to us in human form, carrying the name “Jesus.” There is no way we can truly comprehend the significance of that baby’s entry into the world. It was cataclysmic, totally extraordinary, unexpected in spite of the prophecies that had foretold the event. No one expected their King of Kings to come this way.
And there was Mary, supported by her fiancé, now her legal husband, who also had been directed by an angel to be Mary’s protector in this sensitive situation. Her cousin Elizabeth confirmed that this pregnancy was supernatural. And the song that Mary sang in response (Luke 1:46-55) shows that she had been meditating on God’s promises throughout the Scriptures. She had the words of the angel, and the written Word, giving her assurance. But she really had only the vague outlines of what this son’s coming meant. What did others think? Did they even have an inkling of the truth about what was about to happen?
Probably not. And that laid-back ignorance is what this merry Christmas season all too often reflects today as well. The majority of people around the world who observe the holiday love the decorations, the jolly music and the exquisite lights. Gift-giving is a way to show love, and gathering together encourages friendships and family closeness. All good stuff! I love it too. But the precious miracle that birthed it all is viewed as a kind of folk tale or mythology, more distant than the fun of Santa Claus and reindeer.
In spite of that, the Truth remains, and we hold on to it with joy. This wait that constitutes Advent is not like the long waits that we often deal with in the rest of life, the ones that make us cry out: “How long, Lord?” Those require much growth in faith and perseverance, through hard personal struggles or in distress at the chaos in the world. In contrast, as we wait during Advent we remember God’s goodness and the amazing means he took to come to our rescue.
When our children were young we adopted the practice of lighting four candles in an Advent wreath, each on its designated Sunday, with a fifth one lit on Christmas day. Along the way we adapted the tradition to be a daily reminder of our wait for the coming of our Lord by lighting the candle for that week at each supper and singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” With time, we learned the symbolism of the four candles that are lit each Sunday before Christmas Day:
1: hope – the prophets predicted Messiah’s coming, with expectancy
2: faith—prophecy involves faith that God will do what he said he would, such as Micah’s prediction that the birthplace would be Bethlehem
3: joy – a reminder that Jesus came for those who are humble, ready to receive him; his coming was also heralded by the angels as a message of great joy
4: peace – as the angels said, Jesus came to bring peace, bringing people into a right relationship with God and with each other
5: light and purity – on Christmas Day we remember that the Light of the World has come!
We thought that the three purple candles were the first ones lit, then the pink one on the fourth Sunday, with the white one being for Christmas Day. It turns out that most traditions light the pink one on the third Sunday, since that color traditionally symbolizes joy. And not everyone uses the fifth white candle.
What is important is that we take advantage of this opportunity to be constantly reminded that our Rescuer did come as God had promised, and that knowing him gives us confident hope and thriving faith. We can turn our attention to the Light that reveals God’s true heart and his great plan, being filled with deep joy as we remember his astounding self-sacrifice and the promise that it gives us of life forever with him. All of this changes the atmosphere around us to expectancy.
I am reminded of when I was nearing the last month of pregnancy, eagerly awaiting the birth of our son Bryn in 1986. We were in Ferkessédougou, Côte d’Ivoire, and I had prepped his big sisters, Marisa (almost 9) and Ariane (5), about the processes that would go along with giving birth. One day when I opened the upper door of a cupboard, a small gecko fell off the door and into the scooped neck of my maternity dress, scurrying down my body to land on the floor. I shrieked, wondering if it might be a scorpion. The girls came running to me, grinning, thrilled: “Are your waters breaking, Mom???” I had to laugh. “No, that gecko just fell into my shift and I was scared!” I have never forgotten the excitement of their hope. They could hardly wait for that baby to arrive!
That is the kind of joyful expectancy we can cultivate during this season, eager for Messiah to show himself ever more clearly to each one of us as we remember the wonder of his coming, and are reminded that he is coming again!