I love Advent, but the Lord has been checking and refining even my love for this season. It seems my heart can even taint the seasons of the liturgical calendar.
I find my heart wanting even the four weeks of Advent to be a quick fix. Simple. Clean. Light the candles. Do the devotions. Brokenness fixed. Longings met.
But longing and waiting are anything but simple. Some of my friends cannot approach this Advent simply. Neither nostalgic songs and red Starbucks cups nor lighting pink and purple candles go deep enough to meet the deep longings of their heart. No gift or holiday zoom call can fill the gaps in their lives and present experiences. No daily chocolates can reverse the diagnosis.
My widowed friends and single friends don’t have the pleasure to enter into a four-week season of waiting. Some of them have been in acute seasons of waiting for years. My friends with diagnosed with chronic or mental illnesses and my friends struggling to raise children with special needs know the anguish of long-waiting and dependence daily. Thinking of these friends refines Advent for me and reminds me that Advent is more a prolonged posture of the heart than a holiday happening.
Reading through the book of the prophet Hosea convicts me and stirs my heart back toward the deeper purpose of the Advent season.
Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days, he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers; as the spring rain that waters the earth (Hosea 6:1-3).
One particular phrase struck me anew as I reread these verses this afternoon: “After two days.” It sounds so simple, mathematical, clean, and concise. Yet, here the prophet is using poetic language to capture the sureness of God’s arrival. Just as surely as the sun rises, He is coming. Just as surely as it will eventually rain, He will step in to save and deliver his waiting and weary people.
Two days can be much longer than two days. The Lord works on his perfect timetable, not on ours. On the timeline of eternity, the present trials that tie us and the weights that weary us will feel like a blip on a radar (see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and 1 Peter 1:6-7). However, from where we stand on this time-stamped earth, the days of waiting feel like decades. Sometimes our seasons of waiting truly are decades.
Advent is the season for those who are living in those longest two days, waiting and hoping. Advent is also the season for those who have grown numb in the waiting and wanting, those who have grown to doubt that the third day of revival is coming.
A sincere Advent does not mean a simple Advent. There is room in faithful waiting for tears, doubt, and numbness. There is ample room for messy grief. When speaking about the psalmist’s longing for more of God in Psalms 42 and 43, Sinclair Ferguson writes the following.
“What is it like to have a desire to know God? The Psalms indicate that it can be an exceedingly painful and disturbing thing….Perhaps in his earlier days he had known the presence of God in powerful ways. But now his spirit felt barren and dry. It was parched, and he was crying out for the dew of God’s presence to come to revive and restore him.” (Grow in Grace, Sinclair Ferguson).
For those living in the longest two days, Advent is more than candles and warm fuzzies. It is an active, even agonizing choice to continue to gaze on the goodness and promises of God even in drought and pain. It is banking on the promises Hosea gives us that on the third day, there will be healing where there is wounding and rain where there is parched ground.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.