Here in south Louisiana, events have been building up to 2020 for some time. We had a few storms in the last several years, including the great unnamed flood of 2016. Along with several hundred thousand folk, we lost most of our belongings to the flood waters. Since then I have spent at least one day in the hospital in three of the four years. It kind of gets to you and wears you down.
Then 2020 arrived. We learned the meaning of the word pandemic. A tiny virus from China immobilized the world. The news readers breathlessly tell us how bad it is. We experienced hoarding. We were locked down in place. Weight gain hit a lot of us. Church attendance was impossible, no shopping, no strolling down the streets with friends. Thousands died from the virus and even more people died from suicide than from the virus. I personally have family and friends who died unexpectedly. But we are locked down and cannot grieve in the normal way. We express grief through social media. We cry out in the electronic dark and hope someone hears.
But it was another kind of record year. We had thirty named gulf storms that kept people jumping. Several areas of the gulf coast are still in recovery mode trying to make it through the holidays. We add to this massive fires and rioting in the streets. Is this really planet earth?
Life has many infuriating mysteries. We suffer and then we suffer more. We struggle and then we struggle more. Oh, there is joy in the midst of life, but why do these soul crunching events take place? And why do these events seem to become bigger and harder as time goes on?
When we ask these kinds of questions, we find that Advent was made for times likes. Our generation is not the first to ask these questions. For thousands of years, humanity has had this longing for something to relieve the tyranny of hopelessness. We are not the first generation to suffer. In fact people of the past would envy us if the could see even the poorest among us. But sill our emptiness and longings are very real. The Prophet Isaiah wrote about it.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2 ESV
Advent is an expression of the longings of our hearts. God’s people moan “how long Oh Lord. Our groaning is a mash up of all of life’s suffering and our self inflicted wounds from our persistent sins. How long will we suffer? How long before we are delivered from our sin? How long before we are delivered from the darkness of death?
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 ESV
And 700 hundred years later John wrote:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:14-16 ESV
It is Jesus who comes to remove our sins, and to comfort our soul. Christ remove the stigma of sin that separates us from him and from each other. Our good works could not overcome our condition. God became flesh and bore our sins on the cross as our substitute. When we come to him by faith, we find that he fills that great longing in our hearts.
We still suffer! We still feel the burdens that weigh us down. Advent continues. Now the people of God long for that event the world fears, the second coming of Christ. He returns as both Judge and Redeemer. We anticipate the new heavens and the new earth.
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” Revelation 21:2-4 ESV
Advent is the past and the present and the future of our lives. We dream of the day when our suffering is over. We long for the day when we receive back our lost loved ones and there is no more tears. But even more, we look forward when we are dressed in the garments of heaven and we see Jesus face to face in a place with no more tears, no more suffering, no more death, and no more sin.
Every year we go through our own personal liturgy of Christmastide. We pull out the decorations. We light up our homes, both inside and outside, with the colors and images of Christmas. We give considerable time buying special gifts for special people. For a short time both believer and unbeliever celebrate the incarnation, the birth of the God-Man who takes away the sins of the world. And we sing the Issac Watts majestic hymn, Joy To the World. If we care to see and hear, Advent reveals to us a little bit of what we hope for.
The longing is real. We grow so tired of the battle. Advent is made for us reminding us to never give up even in a year like 2020. We focus on the promises of God, those fulfilled and those yet to come. Let’s make sure we never leave those around us behind but let our suffering together turn into worship. We remember the past, we long for the future, and we wait until Jesus comes again.