Well, it’s almost here. The signs of it are everywhere: It’s in the stores; it’s on TV; it’s online. This is a time of anticipation and waiting and hope. Countless people can’t wait until a certain date this month—not Dec. 25 but Dec. 15.
That’s the day Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters. Star Wars fans have been feverishly anticipating this movie since the ending of The Force Awakens in 2015. There are so many questions people have about it. It’s exciting—and many can’t wait to see it.
We in the church also talk about waiting during Advent. We talk about Mary and Joseph waiting for Jesus to be born. We talk about the Jews who were anticipating their Messiah. We talk about people today who yearn to see Jesus with them now. But today, we’re not so good at waiting.
That’s because we’re also busy rushing around to buy Christmas presents, mail Christmas cards and maybe take a Christmas vacation too. There are so many things to do and plan for in December that waiting becomes hard. If we’re honest with ourselves, what we’re waiting for is not so much Christmas itself but rather for Christmas to be over. Although we enjoy this time of year, we still breathe a big sigh of relief after “the holidays” are done.
Another reason we don’t anticipate Christmas the same way many people anticipate a new Star Wars movie is because we already have what we’re waiting for. We’re not pretending that we’re back with Mary and Joseph waiting for Jesus to be born; we’re not anticipating the arrival of the Messiah with the Jewish people; we’re not looking for his presence here with us today—because Jesus has already been born. The Messiah has arrived. Jesus is with us. (Yes, part of Advent looks at the second coming of Christ—but that doesn’t discount the promise that he is still already here with us.) It’s hard to wait for something when you’ve already got it.
So why do we observe Advent? Because when we wait in Advent, we’re not waiting for a new movie. We’re waiting because God doesn’t work on our schedule.
Star Wars fans don’t have The Last Jedi yet—so that’s why they wait, and even camp out, for it. For many of us, that seems ridiculous. Why wait in line days for a two-hour movie? We also wonder how they do it. Don’t they have responsibilities to take care of? Everything else in life doesn’t stop simply because a new movie is coming out.
We could also say it this way: Everything else in life doesn’t stop simply because Christmas is coming, and the church calendar says this is a time to wait; that’s ridiculous. Advent is like the church is “camping out” for four weeks. Our American culture thinks we’re crazy—and, to be honest, sometimes we think the practice of keeping Advent is kind of crazy too. Why wait weeks for what’s only (for many) one morning of celebration? Wouldn’t it be easier to do the equivalent of buying your tickets online ahead of time and start getting into the Christmas spirit before the Thanksgiving leftovers are even put away?
So why do we observe Advent? Because when we wait in Advent, we’re not waiting for a new movie. We’re not even waiting for Jesus to arrive. We’re waiting because God doesn’t work on our schedule. Mary and Joseph needed to wait. The ancient Jews needed to wait. People today need to wait.
We wait in Advent because not all of life is about instant gratification, because we don’t know what the future holds, because we don’t have all of the answers. Most of all, we wait in Advent because we have the promise that God comes to us in our waiting. We may not see God in the ways we expect (who would have expected the Messiah to show up in the way he did?), but God does come to us.
Our practice of Advent is purposefully countercultural. If people look at us and wonder why we do this—like those camping out for Star Wars—that’s a good thing.
Thanks be to God who comes to us while we wait!