Let me first be honest and say that I really didn't know about advent at all until I started doing research on it this year. What I knew about advent was basically the idea of a little calendar with shapes of Santa and elves all over it that had a little gift in 25 pockets to count down the days until Christmas. We never 'celebrated' advent when I was growing up, and I didn't incorporate it into our adult family as it just seemed like another way to get the idea of the season mistaken as being the receiving of gifts.
But somewhere in this little trickle of information I had regarding 'advent', I knew that our church lights an advent candle every Sunday night during advent season. (May I add, I think the church in general has failed on this front, too. I've been a part of this candle lighting for the entire eleven years I've gone to church and was never explained to what it was all about.) So this little trickle of information was enough to get me interested about what advent was all about, and I started doing some research.
To understand advent, we also have to understand Christmas. Ultimately, most people could answer what the 'real reason for Christmas' is. They don't have to be believers. They can be atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Jewish, etc, yet people know that 'Christmas' is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, their Savior, and that's where we leave it. And when I say 'we', I mean us believers, too.
You know me, I'm honest, so I'll just say, I've tried very hard every year to keep the 'real meaning' in Christmas. Not that the other stuff is 'bad', it's just easy to get caught up in. I find myself really thinking, especially on Christmas eve and Christmas day, about what the coming of the Savior really means. I've thought about Mary's experience and Joseph's experience. I've thought about this precious boy Jesus lying in the manger, with 33 years before He changes the spance of history forever, and still, somehow, I miss it. Maybe not completely, but I miss it. Maybe we've become too accustom to the "story".
And in steps 'advent'. I get it now. I get it's importance. As a parent I've become intrigued by how Mary and Joseph would have felt as Jesus' parents at that moment. I've thought about it and written about it and even shed some tears over it. But I've never really thought about them, or anyone for that matter, as individuals desperately in need of a word from God and in need of a Savior.
Advent is a season of anticipation. (And not anticipation for gifts, ahem.) It's looking back over the history or our faith and seeing our failure (think Eden and the snake). It's watching God lead Israel in a very physical sense and seeing them reject him. It's seeing ourselves in entities like David who failed miserably. It's seeing the law as we know it, albeit established by God, reflect onto us the sin and the shame and the inadequacy in our lives. It's hearing prophets predict this coming Messiah, and then watching, waiting, and listening for God for 400 years and hearing nothing. That brings tears to my eyes, to have no connection with the God of the universe for 400 long years.
In my own life I feel the sin and the shame and the inadaquecy more often than I'd like to admit, but I can look back in hind sight and see what Christ's blood ultimately did for me on the Cross. The people living during the time of Jesus' birth had not heard from God, the generations before them had not heard from God, and they knew that they suffered from the same sin and shame, with nothing more than the mysteries of God, revealed only slightly through prophets, to comfort them. They were still waiting on this Savior King.
And that, friends, is advent. Advent is reflecting on where we'd be if Jesus hadn't come. It's feeling the anticipation, the urgent yearning for a Savior that was promised, but had not come. It's taking a whole season to reflect on the crying out to God to be seen, to be heard, to have His promise be fulfilled. It's looking back through scripture about where we've been. We were totally depraved since the Garden of Eden, since the beginning of time as we know it. We have been lost, ever utterly, and we urgently, honestly, desperately need God to act on our behalf. It's waiting. It's anticipation.
That is when we appreciate the birth of Jesus. That is when singing songs like "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and 'O Holy Night' and 'Silent Night' and best of all, 'Joy to the World' really resonate with us. (Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel would be close to fitting advent.) Personally, (and I love Christmas music), I wish we'd save some of those strictly for Christmas morning, or better yet, a midnight Christmas Eve service, because right now, well, right now my song should be "Please, God come. Please, God speak. Please, Lord, rescue us," because I'm still in a period of waiting. I'm still in a period of anticipation.
I see now why the idea of advent is so important to our Christmas season, as believers. It's impossible for us to grasp the birth of a Savior (which I tried and tried and tried years to do), when I don't first grasp the need for that Savior. Sure, we know in our heads that we need Him, but in our day of age we've always had Jesus available. I'm talking about the need that existed before He came to dwell amongst us. The need that was the bridge between our sin and death and the Glorious Father.
This is what I pray my family sees through the Christmas season. The gifts are not bad, I enjoy them. The decorations aren't bad, I enjoy those too. But the climactic birth of Christ brings an honest joy to those who understand they have need. I pray that our family's celebration of advent will give my kids the opportunity to realize their need for a Savior.