December 10, 2013

Advent is Anticipation

The most memorable Christmas gift I ever received as a child was a pink sweatshirt covered in animals, all of whom were wearing head-gears. The head-gears were stitched in bright silver, I suppose to accentuate the coolness of the sweatshirt, and they very much matched the headgear I wore myself at the time. I think I got that sweatshirt the same year my mom got elephant feet-shaped house slippers. We were quite the fashionable family, let me tell you.

Aside from the head-gear sweatshirt, I have lots of Christmas memories stored up in the ol' brain. There was the year my nine cousins and I acted out the Christmas story for our parents, under the careful direction of my Aunt Nancy. (I got the coveted Mary role.) There was the year we ran around in shorts and t-shirts on Christmas Day because it was so warm at my aunt's house in South Texas. There was the year I got a white fur coat--a huge step up from the head-gear sweatshirt, I must say--and got to wear it to church that very morning.

Probably the most vivid memory I have, however, is lying awake every Christmas Eve willing myself to fall asleep. If you just fall asleep, you'll wake up and it will be Christmas! That's what I'd tell myself, but it never worked. My older and wiser cousin Jennifer told me that if you pinch yourself all down your arms and legs, your body would relax and fall asleep, so I tried that, but to no avail. I was just too excited. The anticipation of all that Christmas morning might hold was coursing through my veins.
Now that I'm adult, Christmas has come to mean two things: doing a bunch of stuff and teaching my kids about why we celebrate. It's fun leading my kids through Advent and the Christmas story each year and thinking back to Jesus' birth together. But sometimes the doing a bunch of stuff--shopping, baking, picking out a picture for the Christmas card (for the love), making plans, cleaning--just weighs me down and takes the merry out of Christmas. Instead of the child-like, "Only 15 more days until Christmas!", I'm thinking a very adult-like, "Only 15 more days to get everything done!" Where has the excitement and anticipation gone?

The other day, gathered around our Advent calendar, I was explaining to our children what the word Advent means and talking about how we're preparing and waiting for Jesus' birth, even though He's already come. I was kind of confusing myself as I talked about waiting for something that's already happened, when Kyle piped in: "And Advent means we're waiting for Jesus to come back again."Oh yes, thank you, I had quite forgotten that.

Advent is looking back, and I think kids very much get that part of Advent, the looking back to the story of Christ's birth and all the angels and the shepherds. My kids especially love to talk about King Herrod and how he lied to the wise man about wanting to know where to find Jesus so he could worship Him. We must cover that detail every time.

But I think Christmas for adults is very much the Advent of looking forward. We know all to well the ways of the world and the reality of life that sucks the merry out. We know suffering and grief and sin. And we know that, in the end, the cookies and the gifts and the parties and the traditions of Christmas are not true hope. Jesus is true hope and we want Him, the warrior Jesus, here and now to end this thing and get on with eternal life.

Hearing Kyle explain it to the kids, a familiar feeling welled inside. Ah yes, the feeling of anticipation. The I-can't-sleep-and-pinching-myself-doesn't-work anticipation of what is to come after the night and in the morning.

Come, Lord Jesus. Thank you for coming and, please, please, come again soon.