The Joyous Paradox of Advent
by Katherine Britton
"Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free…
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart"
"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him." - Luke 12:35-36
Like so many Christian doctrines, the Advent season represents a bit of a paradox. I have to thank my colleague Sarah Phillips for expanding my understanding of the tradition, as the three purple candles and one pink candle were mostly a Christmas countdown to me. But Advent has a greater richness if we have eyes to see.
I found a parallel to the Advent paradox on a recent trip. A couple weeks ago, four of my college friends and I met for a rare weekend together, as we live hundreds of miles apart today. We made pizza, giggled, and spent hours "sharing and caring" like we used to in college, despite the fact that half of us are now married and one of us had a toddler in tow. We were delighted just to be with people who once shared so much with us. As I prepared to leave, I was certainly a bit nostalgic for "the good old days." And yet, I was also thinking about the family and friends awaiting me back in Richmond. I think we all felt a similar tension - not unpleasantly - as the goodbyes rolled around.
Advent represents a coming rather than a going away, but holds a similar tension. On the one hand, we look backwards to Christ's first coming in the manger. On the other, we look forward to the Second Coming and the fullness of our reunion with the Lord. And here we are, stuck between the two in the 21st century.
Advent encompasses so many human feelings - hopeful longing, wistful remembrance, renewed wonder, and more. We are twice waiting, first with the nation of Israel waiting for the Messiah, and then with Christians around the world waiting for the time when "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17). As such, this season is much more than a tradition. It's a season that every person can relate to, because we've all experienced longing. And only one thing can truly fulfill our longings.
That's part of the beauty of celebrating Christ's birth at this dark time of year. We just experienced the winter solstice yesterday; now the days begin to brighten, just as Christ comes to be "the light of men." Our longing for brighter days is literally at hand. The dark night of sin's reign ends as we repent, and joy comes to the world.