With Christmas right around the corner, many are celebrating what is known as Advent. Now, for those of you like me who did not grow up in the church, you may not have learned that Advent is the period of time in the Christian calendar leading up to Christ’s birth on Christmas. Even though “Advent” may sound like the newest asthma medication, it in fact signifies a time of expectant waiting. In Latin (for those word lovers like myself), it literally means “coming.” Christ is coming and as a Christian, we mark this amazing reality by talking about it, hearing about it in sermons, and reflecting on it during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
I did not grow up in the church, and so I did not learn any of this until much later. In fact, for years I confused Advent and Lent and wondered why no one was talking about giving up sweets right before the holidays. It has only been in the last couple years that the real beauty of this time has moved me. Especially now, as our family has the privilege of walking into our church’s sanctuary and being in a living, breathing, vibrant community. To me, Advent smells like pine trees and wears purple velvet. It tastes like candied pecans and hot cocoa.
Advent is the precious reminder that Christmas is coming.
The feeling I get from this time of year, after the last leaves of fall have tip-toed off their branches, is like running down the stairs Christmas morning. Seeing the tree all lit up, a sea of evergreen, with presents shining underneath. As a child, I loved the fact that there was a gift waiting just for me.
Emmanuel—or God with us—is one of the most comforting of all words in the human language in my opinion. In college after I was baptized, I actually toyed with the idea of having it forever inked across my forearm (even before this was trendy); but me with my commitment issues decided against it. Can I just say I am oh-so-glad I didn’t get that butterfly on the small of my back? I digress.
Emmanuel or God with us: this concept is so incredible that I can hardly stand it sometimes. Let me tell you why.
Every day I need to know—and not just with my mind, but with my heart and deep in my bones—that God loves me. Even now, I can hear the Bible-campy song:
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
I remember hearing and even singing this lovely song when I went to Wednesday night youth group with my best friend and her family in middle school. We played games like red rover and ate greasy pizza and watched teens awkwardly act out stories from the Bible with long flowing sheets that were supposed to be tunics or something. I knew the words, or I learned them, but I didn’t really know what it all meant. I did not feel the reality of this statement—Jesus loves me— until years later.
I wish I knew. Perhaps it was the muck I trudged through as a child and teen. Divorced parents, death of loved ones, bullying, insecurity, sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, and then addiction. There was a lot of junk that got in the way of me being able to truly know that God loves me and believe it. Not that I did not search for it—looking for love in all the wrong places, as another song goes. I searched and searched and never found what I was looking for—until I did.
What Are You Searching For?
Jesus came into my life like a steam engine. Loud. Purposeful. Steady. In addiction recovery, there is a saying (we are quite fond of our sayings) that “Gifts of desperation” can bring us to pristine moments of clarity. These gifts bring us to realize our need for God. And importantly, these holy nudges can lead us into a search, then commitment, to walk a better and brighter way.
My gifts of desperation, I’ve often thought, are like the presents under our family tree on Christmases past: way too plentiful. Like a Target commercial. But God’s ways are higher than my ways. His purposes perfect. And in my wounded, thirsty parts, He shows up. I imagine him now, resting against one of the unopened gifts. Beautifully wrapped. Waiting.
God shows me through the shattered spaces and my brokenness that He was—and is and will be—here throughout it all. Emmanuel!
When I finally learned this, something clicked. I realized that I wasn’t alone and never was. And most importantly, I did not have to do life on my own again. There is a God who loves me. Loves me so much, in fact, that he sent his Son to be born in a dusty manger on a sacred, silent night. And this little baby cried and cooed and pooped and stared at the world with wonder-full eyes and grew up to teach and preach and perform miracles and ultimately die the most ignoble of deaths all to show humanity—all to show me—that he loves me.
Christmas is waiting for you.
In this season of waiting—whether we are waiting for the marriage to heal, the test results to come, the baby (or babies) to be born—my prayer is that we all have time for a moment of stillness to reflect during the season of Advent. God is with us. What a beautiful truth and picture of the immense love God has for us all.
As you enjoy Christmas with friends and family, remember the reason for the season: