As soon as the Thanksgiving festivities draw to a close and the house empties out again, I begin preparing my heart and home for the next celebration. Carefully I remove the fall decorations and some of the décor that marks “ordinary time” to make room for the myriad decorations I put up each year for Christmas. The rhythm of my efforts at decking the halls keeps time with the Christmas music I play each December. Every day I light candles to keep the growing darkness at bay. I replace the pumpkin candles that reminded me to live out of a spirit of thanksgiving with pine-scented pillars to remind me we are living squarely in the season of Advent.
Because I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition, I grew up missing the beauty of Advent. In my mind, Christmas followed immediately after Thanksgiving as surely as December follows November. More recently, as I’ve come to appreciate the Church calendar, I’ve discovered the gift of Advent and its call to awaken us to our deep yearnings.
Advent, which is derived from the Latin word for coming, offers us a season to pause and reflect on the anticipation of the coming of Jesus—when he came as Immanuel, when he returns at his second coming, and in between as we fellowship with him. During this season we’re invited to press into our own deepest desires and longings and take them to God. We also create space to ask the Lord to show us his deepest desires for us and for this broken world. Repeatedly I find the surprising gift of Advent to be embracing desire.
The surprising gift I discovered during Advent
Advent is a time of expectation of the Lord’s coming, but it is also a time of preparation to receive him. Like the stillness of the cold mid-winter’s night that welcomed the Christ-child, we too must embrace our own inner stillness if we want to prepare for the Lord’s coming to us.
In the stillness, our truest desires emerge. Only when we’re honest with God about our deep yearnings can we inquire of him about them. This is what the prophet Isaiah wrote of the role of the coming Messiah in Isaiah 61: 1-3,
The Lord has sent me to announce good news to poor people,
to comfort those whose hearts have been broken,
to announce freedom for those who have been captured,
to set prisoners free from their dark cells.
He has sent me to announce the year of God’s favor,
to comfort all those who are sad,
to help those who are filled with sorrow.
I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes.
I will give them joy instead of sorrow, a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness.
Using stillness to awaken desire
Scripture texts like this one for the Advent season remind us Jesus offers us not only the gift of eternal life, but also the gifts of comfort, joy, and freedom in this life. We don’t have to be in a dark cell to be imprisoned. Anything that has captivated us so much that it wields an unhealthy control over us means we’re captive to it. Where do you desire freedom today? From the constant stress of juggling family, career, and unmet expectations? From a broken heart, guilt, shame, or the need to be in control? Or perhaps your captivity is more subtle—the death of a long unmet dream or the voice of your own inner critic.
Advent is the perfect season to sit in the stillness with the Lord and ask him to gently look with you at your deepest desires for freedom, fullness, and peace. Taking time to sit with all that is not as it should be in our lives and inviting the Lord to look at it with us is a daunting endeavor. But this is exactly what he said he came for.
What is causing you to be weary today? Will you offer it to Jesus as you wait with anticipation of his coming? You may discover embracing desire to be the surprising gift of Advent for you too. Our holy and creative God is always working to bring us into fuller joy, fuller freedom. Jesus is the gift of hope to a weary world. Only he can fill us with genuine, lasting comfort and joy.