As humbug as I am, I’ve always harbored a secret passion for Advent calendars. Gazing longingly, I recapture my child-like joy. There’s something about that daily build-up that amplifies the anticipation while slowing down the time as well. Nothing like starting the day with a surprise, a chocolate and a Bible verse, I say!
"Advent" is actually a really great word. From the Latin, it means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Arrival sweeps in on the coat-tails of grandeur. Imagine the Queen of Sheba, striding to a trumpet flourish, full flight of color, motion and sumptuous pageantry; a magnificent entrance and entourage. On the more plebian level of a house-party, when the door-bell peels, whatever didn’t quite get covered is going to have to remain undone. The appearance of guests commands our sudden and total attention.
Advent, strangely enough also marks down the final days of a departing year. Arrival never comes without exodus on some level, as well. With the coming of someone or something, a season of delay, suspension, anticipation or even dread suddenly ends. The lingering wait is over.
The long, dark silence between the prophets of the Old Testament and the New was an interminable 400 years. Never, in all their history, had God been so silent…so removed. It seemed He had nothing to say to His wayward people, deciding instead to abandon them. In that time, Israel stagnated, marauded by unrelenting pagans and enslaved by Rome. Faithful Jews clung tenaciously to the prophecies, but one generation after another saw not a hint of fulfillment. Their culture languished under the burden of Roman occupation and religious life devolved into a lifeless series of man-made rules.
I sympathize. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that 2018 felt more than a bit ‘intertestamental’. All things considered, I find myself…disappointed. I realize it’s not religiously correct to actually admit that out loud, but faith is at times tedious, not to mention downright authentically painful. Deep in the throes of writing, I had my head down and my attention fully consumed, plodding determinedly along. While I managed to successfully assemble reams and reams of words, very little outward progress was evident. While it was a creatively productive year, it was pathetically lacking in outward excitement, and certainly not socially or romantically stimulating.
But I’m not just talking about the tasking. It’s the spiritual atmosphere. We hit seasons when the Lord seems to be saying very little, neither encouraging nor admonitory. There’s no motion; no advancement. You find yourself asking the four walls (as the heavens are amazingly brass-like) whether you are still actually on track. Have you lost the plot? Gone so far AWOL you can’t hear His voice? Are you caught in the middle of some sick game no one ever told you the rules for? It’s a time when relationships pine rather than thrive, and for the life of you, you can’t figure out why. You are weltering in intense doldrums of the spiritual variety, and it does not feel good for the soul. Absolutely nothing seems fresh, but there’s good reason for that. Technically, you are in a dying process. The chapter is closing on a long era, and you are not imagining the kind of ‘last gasp’ feeling as something old and utterly obsolete finally gives up the ghost.
But let’s return to arrival. One choice, patiently-awaited day in Heaven, the Almighty suddenly leaned over and spoke quietly to the angel at His right hand. “It’s time”. Gabriel departed immediately for the temple in Jerusalem, where Zachariah was faithfully performing the incense offering. The cascade of Nativity events were finally set in motion. A new era was begun. Though most of the activity took place unperceived, and few knew it, the deep shadow of night was over.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light; those who dwelt in the land of intense darkness and the shadow of death, upon them has the Light shined.
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 [of Eternity], Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from the [latter] time forth, even forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 AMP
Looking back at the prophetic words I had coming into the year, strangely enough, I do see a pattern of fulfillment. Arrival also carries with it the idea of accomplishment; some goal or objective finally reached through toil and trouble and sweat equity. The problem with birthing out significant things in faith, though, is that the anointing can look so frustratingly pedantic. Isaiah described it by saying ”He hath no form nor comeliness; no beauty that we should desire him”. (Isaiah 53:2-3 KJV) That’s standard operating procedure for the kingdom of God, but it can still be exasperating.
The problem with this nativity of Spirit is that it’s so blasted understated. The Messiah arrived, announced by both a singular star and a glorious angelic choir. The shepherds ran to see the great sight – and found instead a pungent stable and typical baby like a million others. Get used to it, because Emmanuel deliberately refuses to compete with more glittery things, so you’ve got to be paying attention. Every year the King does come, and He comes to us personally, wrapped in the scratchy burlap of everyday life. Pay attention to the little things; the hints, the prophetic intimations and hopes of the hearts, Look past the disappointments and failures, gloom, doom and vexation, because His light is come.
“Where meek souls will receive Him still, the Dear Christ enters in”.