Advent is a time of anticipation. In America, much of the anticipation of this season leads us look with excitement towards Christmas. Music is inherently joyful, the decorations are bright and alluring, and merchandise is priced so low that you just have to buy a bunch of stuff! In our country, the Advent season leading up to Christmas is a happy time aimed at putting us all in a joyous mood and helping our joy to grow as we go along. At least until New Year’s comes around so we can resolve to lose the pounds that our joyous eating has brought on throughout December!
But, in the Christian tradition, Advent has long been a time of sorrowful longing rather than joyous anticipation. Advent marks the longing for a Savior, the Messiah who will save the world. The Advent longing for the joy of Christmas was originally seen to represent the painful realization that all is not well with the world, that we are sinners who need to be washed in the waters of John’s baptism and desperately await the salvation that Christ brings. The world without Christ is a bleak place, a world in which God is farther off than we would like, a world that needs saving but is not yet saved.
And so we live, for a few weeks, in the odd space of joyfully and expectantly waiting for our savior, while painfully living in the world that aches for salvation. For a time we long, with a deep and mysterious eagerness for the future salvation that God provides.
But, on Christmas day, all will change. We will rejoice together with a loud, joyous chorus, praising God for sending the Savior of the Nations. We will sing aloud that our longing is over and gladly pray to God with the psalmist:
“You have turned my mourning into dancing;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
So that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12)