Advent, endings, beginnings, and the in-betweens

 

Advent is my second-favorite liturgical season, right after Lent. Advent emotions are the ones that make the most sense to me. The Jews don’t have a monopoly on longing, expectation, and learning celebration within the sometimes-ugly middle times.The long-awaited Jesus came, and he won. But he didn’t hand us neat easy answers, and he left us with a job to do.

Being in the middle of doing that job (and honestly feeling totally lost most of the time) makes more sense with Advent as context. Because, for starters, it reminds me that I’m not the first person to feel disconnected from the ongoing story of scripture. And because we go over and over the broad Genesis-to-John arc of scripture, I can’t miss the dozens of times when people felt like God wouldn’t follow through, but He did. And His follow-through was better than anything they could have planned or expected.

There’s no cure for existential angst like a little biblical context, in my experience.

Advent brings together the truths we can see played out in the stories of the past with the promises that we are still waiting on. I love singing lyrics that are grounded in the experiences of a group of people that lived centuries ago, like these…

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

…right next to lyrics that are deeply rooted in what we feel today and will feel at Christ’s return, like these:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand
Ponder nothing earthly minded
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spread their vanguard through the sky
Veil their faces to the Presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Today marks the end of Advent. Tomorrow, the celebration we’ve been longing for and building up to will begin. The twelve-day-long Christmastide party will start. (Although, let’s be honest, most of us have been celebrating this whole time and will stop right after New Year’s. Myself probably included.)

I know Christmas is the whole point of Advent. Waiting wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t something at the end – a culmination, and ending. But I’m going to miss Advent tomorrow and the next day and lots of days after. I’m going to feel a little lost again. Straight-celebration liturgy is wonderful, and important, and I love it. But it doesn’t resonate with my heart the way waiting does.

Emmanuel, God-with-us came; Emmanuel, God-with-us is coming again. In the middle times, we get to find ways to live within the tension. Some of those ways are easy, some take work. I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to settle into the celebration side of the liturgy; but I suppose that’s the whole point of having a church calendar that operates separate from my whims. There are a whole host of emotions that can be appropriately directed at our Creator-Redeemer God. The liturgy has words to teach me the ones I don’t know how to feel yet.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll settle into celebration. I will sing Joy to the World with zeal. And, by the grace of God, I’ll be learning how to feel it in the process.

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