2020—What a year it’s been, huh?
The trouble is, we have not assurance that 2021 will be much better. Yet here we are waiting. Waiting for COVID to be over, for the economy to rebound, for jobs to open up, for us to return to normal. Even though we find ourselves waiting for particular things this year, much of life apart from a pandemic is spent waiting. Waiting for a diagnosis; waiting for an interview; waiting for the summer; waiting a text reply.
My own health challenges this year with my vocal cords allowed me to experience all of this firsthand. Waiting for the next doctor’s report. Waiting for the surgery date. Waiting for two weeks of silence to be over. Waiting to be able to preach again.
What makes waiting hardest of all is when the outcome is uncertain. It’s one thing to have to wait; it’s another thing to not know if what we’re waiting for will ever come. There were many days when I thought, “Will my voice ever be normal?” “Will I ever be able to preach again?”
Advent is technically a word that means “arrival”, but in reality it’s a season of waiting. But it is not an empty waiting. We know what we are waiting for. We await the arrival of the King. The world’s true Lord, the only one who can judge with justice and mercy and set things right, is Jesus Christ. Our sermon series on the Book of Revelation has reminded us that at the return of Jesus will come restoration and renewal and resurrection.
But how do we know this is not mere wishful thinking? What distinguishes Christian hope from optimism? How do we know that what we are waiting for—or rather, Who we are waiting for—will actually come?
It is because of the first Advent. Jesus Christ came, lived, died, and was raised to life. And because of this we know that Christ will come again. The early Christians reminded themselves of this every time they came to receive the bread and the wine at “the Eucharist. They would say together, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”
Our waiting, then, occurs between two arrivals, two Advents. Every Advent we celebrate in between is both a looking back and a looking forward, a remembrance and an anticipation. In that sense, Advent is like the Lord’s Table itself. We remember that Christ has died and is risen, and we anticipate a great feast at His return. Advent is a season of holding together memory and hope as we wait.
There are three things that the New Testament points us to give ourselves to as we wait.
The first is to worship as you wait. The first Advent is full of scenes of worship, particularly in Luke’s gospel. These were people who were waiting with no assurance of an arrival. They were hanging on to promises in Isaiah and Ezekiel and elsewhere that God Himself would come for them, that God would be King and defeat their enemies and deliver them. But they wrestled with their own doubts. Had their sin been too much? Would God still keep His promise even though they have broken theirs? When Jesus was born, people began to sing, as they had always done in moments of God’s manifest salvation. Zechariah sings. Mary sings. Angels sing. Simeon sings. And why wouldn’t they? The Psalms are full of songs that the people of God sing to remind themselves of God’s character and covenant. They sang when they were scared; they sang when they saw God’s deliverance; and the sang while they waited with hope.
The second thing we do is to weep as you wait. Singing does not negate the sadness. Worship includes lament as a form of praise. In Romans 8, Paul tells us that all creation is groaning as it waits. Our groaning is part of the great groaning of the world. Deep in our bones we know that all is not as it should be. We do not have what we are waiting for. Our weeping is a testimony to that truth. Our tears are a protest against the present reality and an attestation to a better reality that is to come. I know weeping seems powerless and pointless, but weeping is a way of sharing in the very vocation of Jesus Himself. What the people of Israel did not expect was for the Messiah to also be the Suffering Servant that Isaiah spoke of. Surely the Messiah would be a conqueror not a sufferer. But Jesus was both. In His suffering, He saved us. In our weeping, we join with Jesus and stand with the pain of the world.
The third is to work as you wait. In 1 Corinthians 15, one of the great chapters about the triumphant return of Christ, Paul ends by calling the church to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58b, ESV). Waiting is not passive. We work in the Lord as we wait. Work in the Lord is work that is in line with character of Jesus and the mission of God. It is work that rescues and redeems and restores through sacrificial, self-giving love.
Our prayer with this devotional is that it will help you to worship and weep and work as you wait. And through it all, we pray that you would fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and the Finisher, the Beginning and the End, the Origin and the Goal, the One who came and the One who is to come.
This is the introduction to our 2020 New Life Downtown Advent and Christmas Daily Devotional, featuring entries written by our staff and volunteer leaders, poems curated by our team, and original artwork by one of the teens in our church.
You can purchase it digitally here.