Let me admit this up front: I am that person that annoys you about Christmas.
My tree has already been up for weeks, our lights are on outside, and I’ve been listening to Christmas songs since the day after Halloween.
I love the Christmas season because it’s a time of celebration and beauty, generosity and joy, family and friends, crackling fires and twinkle lights. But this year feels different for us all. Advent, the traditional season of anticipation, has a new and deeper meaning as we long for better days.
For many people I love, this year has been the worst.
Many have lost their health, their homes, their normal lives, their retirement, and much more. We are all in need of a change. We are all longing for a better future.
In the struggles of 2020, I am reminded that as much as I love the fun that Christmastime brings, Advent is really a time of hope. It’s a time of waiting, of trusting, of yearning for our Messiah. It is a time to remember that God steps into the midst of a broken world to be with us – to rescue us at just the right moment.
The time period between Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, and the birth of Christ is known as intertestamental silence. The Old Testament ends with the promise of a Messiah and covenants to fulfill, and the people of God are left in anticipation. But for more than 400 years, there were no prophets; God was not speaking to his people. It would have been easy for God’s people to believe that his plan had stalled, that perhaps his purposes and promises had been thwarted.
But a closer look at this time reveals just how much God was doing to prepare the world for Jesus and the spread of his good news.
The unfaithfulness of God’s people led to their exile. Although the temple was modestly rebuilt and their return was permitted, not everyone returned to Jerusalem. While this season brought great suffering for the Jewish people, it also resulted in circumstances that were vital to the coming gospel explosion.
During the intertestamental period, the Romans came to power. With their rise came roads, government, and a universal culture, connecting the empire together. There was a common language throughout all of the empire (Greek) so that the scattered people could all communicate. And synagogues were built all over Asia Minor so that the dispersed Jews could worship in their own distant communities.
Although the people of the day couldn’t see it, God was not idle. He was at work and used the pain and disappointment of exile and oppression to prepare the world for the Gospel. The Roman government’s execution method would bring about the promised sacrifice of the Son. Roman roads straddled the empire, creating safe paths for Paul to travel on his missionary journeys. The New Testament scriptures would be written in the common tongue of the known world. The scattered synagogues would form the basis for a network of churches, where Paul would preach the gospel of a messiah to those who were familiar with the Jewish customs and beliefs.
For many of us, God feels distant in this moment. We struggle to understand what God is doing and find it difficult to trust in his plan and providence.
But just as before, God is at work right now in the seeming silence. He is at work while we wait, while we suffer, and while we are confused. Though we may not hear him or see him – though he may seem far away – we can trust that he is present and active.
For hundreds of years, not just months, God’s people wondered where he was. While we look forward to the return of Jesus, or even just to better days, let us rest in this time of Advent, commemorating the moment when God entered our world in the most profound, tangible, and transformative way: sending his only Son, God himself, to enter into this broken world and save us.
God is moving in our lives, his promises are true, and he is faithful. He is at work in us through his Spirit, transforming us and speaking to us, in the midst of whatever pain we experience. He is at work in the world as the Gospel still spreads to the ends of the earth.
Advent is a time of celebration, but it is also a time to reflect on our need to trust in God – to believe that his promises are true and his love is enduring.
As we anticipate celebrating the birth of Christ and hope for better things to come, let’s take this time to remember God’s faithfulness. May we embrace the waiting, trusting that God is working all things for our good and his glory.
“The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.”