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16 December 2020

Advent: waiting and watching

In our house, we aren’t allowed to sing Christmas carols until December 1st. I’m told this is the fault of five–year–old me, who would have her favourite carols on repeat well into June, if she could. So for our family, the appearance of carol CDs signals something – Christmas is on its way. In your house, the start of the Christmas season may look something different – the entrance of the tree through the door, branches scraping the hallway and scattering needles, the presence of a boxy calendar, with tiny indecipherable numbers, the receiving of the first card, flying through the letterbox onto the mat. These moments have something in common – they are all moments of arrival. 

Arrival is, in essence, what advent is all about – an arrival of something long–awaited, something momentous. It’s the same word we might use to describe the arrival of the new iPhone, or the Covid vaccine. Advent is linked with waiting, but it is waiting that is finally over – the thing, whatever it is, is here. It’s important when we talk about the run–up to Christmas: advent may feel like a time of waiting, crossing off the days until the 25th, but the thing we’re waiting for – the promised Lamb of God – is already here.

Waiting

The idea of advent is best summed–up in the story of Simeon who, we are told, “was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.”

We meet Simeon in the temple, in God’s house, as he had been every year of his life, and he was waiting, as the Israelites had been waiting, in expectant hope for a Messiah, someone who would bring consolation, rescue, and salvation.

This is the reason we read prophecies every Christmas, prophecies that speak of a child born to a virgin, a branch from the line of David, a shepherd from Bethlehem. These prophecies weren’t riddles, they were promises, that everyone had been holding out for, for so long that they’d almost given up hope. Promises given to exiles longing for home; to a captive people, longing for rescue. 

Little Simeon would have heard the promises passed down from his parents, passed down from their parents, and so on, for generations. He would have grown up wondering when this Messiah would come. And now he is old and he’s never stopped waiting, never stopped hoping, and God’s Holy Spirit has promised him that he will see this Messiah before he dies, but he’s at the end of his life and it seems like the promise will never arrive. 

It’s like a child who is waiting for her daddy to come home for Christmas, and it’s Christmas Eve and he’s still not here, and all the adults are subtly trying to let her down, let her know he’s not coming.

And then Christmas morning comes and she looks and he’s still not there, and then she hears his car approaching and the stamp of boots in the porch, and she knows the promises are true.

Arrival

Back in the temple, Simeon sees a young family arriving, a small child in tow, and he knows this is the one he has been waiting for. And old Simeon holds the promised child in his arms, and repeats the cry which echoes down to us this advent: 

“my eyes have seen your salvation,

 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations”

The promised salvation is finally here; the Lamb of God has arrived.

For this reason, this advent, why not ask the Lord to remind yourself of God’s promises in new and old ways? Every Christmas, I put on the old songs to remind me of that old hope. Last year, I had the Behold the Lamb of God album on repeat, which tells the story of the bible as a story leading up to God’s promised Lamb. Or I pull open the Old Testament promises, of Isaiah or Micah, and try to imagine those Israelites, waiting for the promise, and delight once again in the surprising arrival of the New Testament. Or I thumb through a devotional, and hear voices much wiser than mine explain the journey of God’s promise throughout scripture. These are my three ways – devotional, promise, song  – and you may have your own, but let us remember together, as we wait and hope for Christmas, of God’s marvelous promise that has already arrived.

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