You know that feeling you get before something really exciting happens? The one where your stomach drops, your heart starts pounding, your breathing quickens and you get this tingling sensation that courses through your blood at 100 mph. Yeah, that feeling? It's called anticipation. "The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment." Coming. Expectant. Anticipation. The preparing of your heart to receive and unwrap something beautiful.
Well, my dear friend and I were sitting on her couch the other night, bundled up in blankets next to the illuminated Christmas tree talking about this next season we are both heading into, and reflecting on the past year. I shared about this month always being a hard one - with the three most reflective days falling within five days of each other (Christmas, Birthday, and New Year's Eve) and feeling like another year has gone by where several things I've been praying and hoping for have yet to be fulfilled. I also shared my thoughts for this next year and how I plan to put those things aside. My friend then pointed out that it seems like in these areas of my life, my heart is conditioned more for disappointment than it is to live with expectant anticipation for God to provide, to give something good. Um, ouch. As graciously as it was delivered, the truth stung a bit. I sat there and took a quick inventory of my emotions, my head, my heart and my soul and she hit the nail on the head. I've been bracing myself for a blow more than I've been waiting with open-handed, joyful expectation, for the good gifts my Heavenly Father has prepared to give me. It couldn't be more fitting that this new insight came the first week of Advent.
So, I've spent the past week studying Jesus' birth - the beautiful story of Christmas. And friends, it is encouragement for a weary soul, balm for an open wound, hope that lifts the burden of disappointment. I found in it a gift for me - for all of us - just waiting to be unwrapped. This Christmas Story - the story of Jesus' first coming - provides a strong foundation for us to ground ourselves in as we anticipate his second coming and wait for him to fulfill His promises in our lives now.
We, as followers of Christ, live in hopeful anticipation of his second coming grounded in the Truth of his first coming. So, here are the truths I am grounding my hopeful anticipation in this season:
1. The time between God making a promise and fulfilling that promise is active and purposeful.
Jesus' birth is prophesied and promised several times throughout the Old Testament. (Is 7:14, 9:6-7; Mic. 5:2-5; Hos. 11:1; Deut. 18:15). That was hundreds of years before Jesus was actually born. It would seem natural for people to believe that maybe God didn't really mean what He said or that He had forgotten because those promises weren't fulfilled in their lifetime. It feels crazy to say that they might have actually believed that, given their history with the Provider. But I realize I often operate out of a place where I feel forgotten by God, too. My heart is conditioned for disappointment. And yet when we really dig into the story, we see that all along, through all those years, God was actively fulfilling His promise. He wasn't sitting around waiting for the right time to send his Son, Jesus. He was always working out His plan. I don't believe it's an accident that the genealogy of Jesus is mentioned several times throughout the story of his birth. It demonstrates that God works through ordinary people, the broken and the "least of these", yes. But I also think it is there to remind us that God was actively fulfilling His promise throughout all of those generations and people. His lineage was being built. After going through the list of people in Jesus’ lineage, Matthew 1:18 says: “Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way…” This is the promise God was fulfilling, and yet every story and every person leading up to that moment was significant and part of an intricate design being brought to life. So, our waiting is not a time of inactivity until He fulfills our desires - He is actively working in the waiting. In the process. On my behalf. For my good. Always.
2. The fulfillment may not, and most likely will not, look anything like what I imagine or dream.
It will be so. much. better. It's what makes the anticipation so beautiful. On Christmas morning, as we tear through the wrapping paper and rip open boxes, the gift unfolds before our eyes. Gifts from our heavenly Father are so much better - layer after layer unfolded reveals His profound thoughtfulness towards us. The beauty of the Father's gifts, in contrast to the ones we unwrap on Christmas morning, is that they never stop giving. He never stops giving. It's nothing we dreamed or imagined, but fulfills more than every hope we dared to admit to ourselves and make known to Him.
The Israelites were expecting a king, born into royalty, polished, beautiful. Rather, The Gift was born to a teenage girl, a carpenter father, from a town no one loved, in a manger surrounded by animals and with an audience of shepherds. He was an outcast and a refugee from birth. This is our king?! Really, God!? This is the best gift you've ever promised? Yes, it is! And look at how that gift continued to unfold. Look at how it still unfolds as we unwrap it. I honestly can't help but sit here in awe as I think about the implications of this Gift.
3. The gifts He gives are good.
If I live with my heart prepared for disappointment, that is what my heart will look for and receive. But, if I live with a heart that is expectant - full of anticipation- for what is to come, then that is what I will be on the lookout for. God's goodness. The goodness He promises to give. The goodness He has already shown himself faithful to give by giving us Himself. And He. Is. Good.
4. The Giver didn't just give us "a" gift, He gave us Himself.
The greatest gift we have ever received and ever will receive is that of the Giver. The Giver gave us Himself. The gift is the Giver. The Giver is the gift. This means the well of good gifts never runs dry. My heart should always be turned to him, palms open, ready to receive and unwrap. Receive, and unwrap. Receive and unwrap. And enjoy the gifts He gives.
Because I am a child of God, I get to claim this heritage as my own. I get to claim these stories of His faithfulness as his faithfulness to me. I get to unwrap the Greatest Gift ever given and watch the layers continue to unfold as God's deep heart for me is revealed. I get to watch him "fill my hunger with good good things" and I get to wait with anticipation - with a heart conditioned for his best. Not just the sanctifying best. But the taste good, feel good best too. I have the gift of the Giver. The Gift that never stops giving. Ever.
This morning, in church, we sang ‘Come Let Us Adore Him’. It’s one of those songs I’ve grown up singing, one that’s easy to sing through without really thinking about the magnitude of the truth it proclaims. And one verse in the song struck me as I sang it - probably because I had this blog post on my brain:
“Word of the Father now in flesh appearing.”
Jesus. A promise of God fulfilled. His word spoken, made real and tangible. The word that goes out of our Father's mouth never returns void. It accomplishes what He pleases and will prosper in the thing He sent it to do. Jesus’ birth confirms God's promise about His fulfillment of His promises. Jesus’ death on the cross confirms that God’s promises do not return void. His Word, now flesh. Our hope.
So, today, I ground myself in the advent truth of His purposefulness. I ground myself in the advent expectation that His fulfillment of His promises and my deep desires will be so much better than I can dream up or imagine. I ground myself in the Advent Truth that He has given, and He will give, and will bless with good things. And most importantly, I ground myself in the advent truth that I can condition my heart for hopeful anticipation because God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us - Immanuel, God with us - and accomplished exactly what God promised He would in a way that was so much more extravagant than I could ever have imagined.
One of the pastors in our church said it so beautifully this morning: “The story of Christmas is the story of something outrageous done by God - the infinite became an infant.” Ah, I want to expect the outrageous. And the crazy thing is that I can, because God has already done it!
Now I know. Now I know. Since you did not spare Your only Son, how will you not graciously give us - even me - all things you know I need. (Romans 8:32)