I am, generally speaking, an optimist. I tend to look on the bright side of things, see the glass as half full.
And yet, if I am completely honest, this practice has become increasingly difficult over the last few years—particularly around this time of year.
This month a few years ago, my wife and I felt the sting of death as we experienced our second miscarriage that year. Last year, a long-time friend and father figure called to say he had been diagnosed with cancer, just before my job as I knew it came to an end. This year, the news is oversaturated with bombings and shootings, war and death. So much darkness and sadness and mourning—so much brokenness.
Contrast that with the meaninglessness of the “Holiday Season” that the West has come to celebrate. Commercials cater to our consumeristic comfort idols by showing us beautiful people with smiling faces, enjoying the good life and telling us we need more and more stuff if we want to be happy too. Radio stations fill our ears with a sonically shimmering, polished veneer of jolliness and cheer.
Advent is About Reality
I have historically been the guy who would put up my tree the day after Halloween and listen exclusively to Christmas music until I was forced to stop. It was as if, for one holly jolly month, I could just take a break from all the brokenness around me and pretend all was right with the world.
I don’t want to sound like the Grinch, but it has all begun to feel a bit hollow. It often seems we are looking for happiness and hope where it was never meant to be found—in facades and fake smiles. This has robbed an entire season of the meaning and beauty it inherently has; not one of an over-realized eschatology where everything is already perfect, but a realistic hope that though things are broken now, Jesus is making the world right again—and He’s on His way back to finish the job.
This is the hope of Advent. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that we are in the middle of the mess, but we can celebrate the fact that we have a God who is above all the mess, sovereign and wise. He is in control. And He is coming to make all things right.
When the rest of the world is acting like nothing is wrong even while it spirals in despair, Christians can sing songs like “O Holy Night” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” which remind us of the “thrill of hope” we have in Christ. Though the world lay “in sin and error pining,” our weary souls have a promise that some day soon He will break our chains and set the captive free. He will disperse the gloomy clouds of night and put death’s dark shadow to flight.
We have the hope of Revelation 21:3-6, where the voice of the Lord spoke to the Apostle John of the glory that awaits us.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away… Behold, I am making all things new… Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true… It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
God gives us an amazing promise and then ends with, “This is as good as done. I am who I say I am and I do what I say I will do. And not one thing can stand in My way or stop Me.”
These words are the glue that holds believers together when everything around them is unraveling. In miscarriages and cancer, job changes and terrorist attacks, God is still a God who keeps His promises. When He says He will do something, He will do it.
Advent Is About a Promise
In the garden, when Adam and Eve first sinned and all the world broke, God promised to send a Son who would redeem all that was lost and save the world from their sins. When Jesus came, God proved that He keeps His word.
The first Christmas wasn’t about warm fuzzies and fake smiles. It was an act of war on death and darkness—planned from before the foundation of the world by a God who doesn’t lose.
Look at the extremes to which Jesus has gone to win us back from the death we had earned; to give mercy in place of the wrath we deserved.
Though very nature God, He didn’t hoard that. Instead, with kindness and compassion, He emptied Himself, and the King of Kings made Himself a servant. He got up from His throne where He ruled and reigned with all the riches and perfection of Heaven, wrapped Himself in flesh and moved into our poverty and brokenness.
The One who hung the stars and created all things was born to a virgin in a barn so that He might be hung on a cross by the very ones He created. He lay down His life that we might live.
This is our God—the One who fulfills all that He says. If He has done all this before, proving Himself faithful, then we can surely count on Him to keep His word now!
Advent Is About the Future
Advent reminds us that this same God has promised that just has He has come before, He will return to make all things right and all things new. To fix all that is broken. To destroy sin, sickness, and sorrow once and for all, and to shine the perfect light of His glory on us forever.
He won’t return as a baby in a manger, but as a conquering King who puts death and darkness under His feet for good and lets us share in His victory for eternity.
Advent is the realistic hope that the Church holds out to a world that’s playing house in Stepford. It is the truest joy in the midst of deepest sorrow. It is the beauty we see through the tears.
We are waiting, sometimes painfully, but our Help is on His way. And so we join in the song of Advent. The song that John so concisely taught us in his last words of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Our God who keeps his promises will surely keep this one too.
Stephen Miller is a worship pastor, artist, and author of Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars and Liberating King. His Light Has Broken Through Advent EP is free on Noisetrade, and you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.