A few years ago, my mother sent my boys an Advent calendar. It depicted a brightly colored winter tableau with glowy cottages and red-cheeked children. And each date had a little poke-through box with a tiny, brightly foiled piece of chocolate waiting inside.
Quite clearly, it was the worst present ever.
If you are a parent, then you know. My mother—whom I have on good authority is also a parent—ONLY SENT ONE ADVENT CALENDAR.
Have you ever tried to cut a marble-sized piece of chocolate in half? My children stood and mouth-breathed all around me while I tried to hold a teensy, melty bit of chocolate. There was so much pressure. We then tried for an every-other-day approach, but something unholy happens when one toddler watches another toddler eat chocolate. It is too painful. I started to hate that calendar and all of its glowy winter scenery.
Waiting is so hard. It is a tension, a tight pulling of string. We want something and try so very hard to pull it close. Watching my children mess up the idea of Advent was both comical and tedious, but it is also a small picture of how I mess it up too—because I don’t understand waiting.
First of all, I would much rather ignore it altogether. It’s so much easier to focus only on what comes after the waiting. We wait for something fabulous, and then we think that event will change our lives forever. We wait for the hard things to pass, and then we expect the aftermath to set us down in a field of roses. All of waiting is a held breath, and that next exhalation is tethered so tightly to emotions that it becomes tangled.
Christmas morning can get tangled, of course. We wait and wait, with our parties and cookies and Josh Groban overload on Pandora, and so on. We add caroling and big family dinners and huge gift budgets and ribbons and bows and snarls galore. It’s easy to forget what we are really waiting for. There is some really good news here, though: Jesus is worth the wait, and he forgives our forgetfulness.
When we attend church and the families walk up to the front to light the Advent candle, we know what it’s all about. We watch the children squirm because they’re wearing suit coats and tights, and sometimes the candle takes forever to light, and we smile. We love the reminder. This is Spiritual Waiting, which is the good kind. We’ve got this. On Christmas morning, we might be disappointed that our spouse (yet again) bought us a shirt that doesn’t fit and that both our kids are bickering because they’re sleep-deprived and gift-glutted, but Jesus is here! So we’re good.
Every Christmas season, we might pile our calendars a little too full of holiday cheer and then, because of exhaustion, fight with our families about it, but still. Jesus is here. Ultimately, it’s all okay. This is the Big Wait, and we get to have it every year, so we kind of know how it’s going to turn out. I’m not really waiting. I’m play-waiting. And it’s starting to bug me.
Every year, I say the same thing: “I will make this season one of adoring anticipation. It will be holy. It will be joyful. It will not be a cover from a Real Simple (which is neither really all that real or simple) magazine.” But what if we’re still getting it wrong? What if we could see that Jesus is waiting too?
In those long weeks before Christmas, with our Advent celebrations signifying thoughtful longing and anticipation, we don’t wait alone—because Jesus longs for us too.
Here is what I know about Jesus. He loved us enough to leave his seat at the right hand of the Father and walk to us. He became one of us, walked right into all the stress and deprivation and imperfection—when, instead, he could be living in paradise. He overturned the tables, laid waste to expectations. He flipped the script, and our lives, and all of it happened so long ago. Or yesterday. Or forever—if we really understand what life with Jesus is supposed to be.
Yet we forget. We forget what waiting means, in this faith of ours. Most of us think waiting is about an arrival. A specific event. And it often is. The Israelites waited hundreds of years for the specific event that was the birth of Jesus—although many didn’t recognize it, and others weren’t all that impressed, when it finally came. And Christians today have been waiting thousands of years for another specific event—Jesus’s second coming, when God will redeem and restore the earth. Because that’s how God works. Not according to our calendars or our expectations at all, so a lot of the waiting we do today is often more about relationship. And in those long weeks before Christmas, with our Advent celebrations signifying thoughtful longing and anticipation, we don’t wait alone—because Jesus longs for us too.
Jesus waits so eagerly for us to come to him. And, more than that, he waits for us to deepen our relationship with him. The rhythm of those weeks before our celebration of the birth of Jesus is beautiful. It’s joyful, this kind of waiting. It’s fun. The music, the decorations, the glow of candles, the sumptuous baked goods, and the delicious waiting—are a wonderment. Which is how Christ feels about us too. He anticipates our lives. He celebrates us.
Every Christmas, my boys and I write short notes on paper hearts and place them in shoeboxes and then wrap the shoeboxes. We place them, messily tied and with too much tape, under the tree. And then, every Christmas morning, the gifts are magically gone. Every Christmas needs a little magic, and my boys are willing to play along. I always point out that the presents are missing, and the boys smile. On the hearts, we have written things like, “I will work hard in school,” or “I will be kind to my brother.” Or “I will read your Word every day.” These are our birthday presents for Jesus. We want to give him our hearts. He gave us his, long ago. And each year, as we wait for Christmas, we remember the waiting of old, and we are reminded of the wait we still engage, and will until Christ returns—all the while knowing he has come, he is already here, and he will come again. And in the in-between, he waits for us too. Thank you, Lord.