My plans for Advent have crumbled, and it is perfect, in a terrible sort of way.
It all began Thanksgiving Day. We had a houseful of family, friends, and neighbors. Midway through meal preparations, I peeked inside the turkey roaster and discovered that the bird was a whitish-pink. After initially cooking hot, for a short time, the roaster conked out. I glanced about our home at the sheer number of hungry people. At least there were plenty of side dishes, now sans turkey.
No one else was perturbed, given the bounty of food, but let’s face it: my plans for a tender, juicy platter of meat fizzled.
To further complicate, I began to feel unusually tired, but isn’t that normal (or so I told myself) when hosting an extensive holiday gathering? As the day unfurled, I began to daydream of slipping upstairs, crawling into bed, and sleeping for days. I longed for my soft pillow. (This is definitely not normal. My family knows that anytime I want to nap, something is off.)
Within seventy-two hours of Thanksgiving, I was terribly unwell. I curled up in bed and stared longingly at my new Advent book perched upon my nightstand, but could not draw strength to read so much as a sentence. When all was said and done, I was ill for over a week. And then, just about the time I began to recuperate, my husband came down with an aggressive kidney stone attack, landing us in the ER, and beyond. Shortly thereafter, I circled back around to the doctor yet again, this time with an angry sinus infection.
What does any of this have to do with Advent?
I had great expectations. Advent is a hunger, an anticipation of Christ’s coming. This was going to be the year for me to dig deep, to partake of the month-long devotions, to soar to new spiritual heights.
But like the cold turkey, Advent has not cooked up according to my best laid plans.
Down for the count as Advent began, I contended, painfully, in the dark. I tossed and I turned and I slept. And I wrestled. And through that struggling, I saw afresh my self-reliance in times of plenty.
Suffering, by its very nature, changes things. It forces my hand, and requires me to operate at a subdued frequency. Suffering whittles the edges off of things I hold dear, replacing those seared spaces with a burning for heaven. Suddenly, this present world loses its sparkle.
Advent is a fresh wailing. A pleading for Jesus to come to earth and make all terrible things new. He alone can put all sin and pain to rights. During the desperation of suffering, I see my complete lack and God’s goodness with fresh eyes. Prior to any of us being bedridden, or bankrupt, or living in bedlam, we assume that we may control and plan and move the proverbial needle, rising to our best self. And we fool ourselves into believing that this must be God’s plan.
Read your Bible from beginning to end, and you will understand that we are, and have always been, a desperate, needy, sinful people. It is the wise soul who recognizes this, and moves toward Christ in humble repentance and trust and obedience. Again and again and again.
I have just finished reading my Bible straight through this year. It is the only way to stay grounded in truth. Through this daily reading, I have born painful witness to my own familiar sin on repeat. (As Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us, There is nothing new under the sun.)
I am like Eve in the garden, vying for supremacy, and after willfully disobeying God, I blame others (Genesis 3:13).
I am the children of Israel, impatient as God writes the Ten Commandments with his own finger (Exodus 31: 18). I seek that pretty golden calf, tossing my soul towards idols, before becoming a shadow of Aaron who shrugs, casting blame while pathetically announcing: No one knew where you were, Moses, so I collected gold, threw it into the fire, and voila! out came a calf (Exodus 32:21-24)!
I am like the children of Babel, fashioning towers of self-glory, which God mercifully confuses, opening my eyes to my foolishness (Genesis 11:4-9).
Like Jonah, I am a petulant child, often dissatisfied with where God has placed me to serve, irritated at all of the people who just don’t get it (Jonah 4:1-3).
I am Peter, boldly proclaiming God and his goodness, and then creeping to the shadows (Luke 22:54-62) and denying Christ.
But God (Ephesians 2:4-5).
There is hope. And this is what my daily Bible consumption gives me:
Our Savior is tucked right there in Genesis, and is present throughout Scripture, all of the way through Revelation. At the moment sin entered, there is a gracious promise of the offspring of Eve, who will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:14-15).
I finished Revelation this week and could have wept in relief. Jesus calls himself the bright morning star. (Revelation 22:16.) He is our Advent come to fruition. Our everything. Our only hope.
Jesus Christ was our chosen Redeemer before the foundation of the world. (1 Peter 1:20-21) Understanding this, believing this, clinging to this, leads to life. The world is broken and we do well to remind ourselves that it is so. This is why a sinless baby was lowered from the heavens. To suffer and to bleed and to sweat drops of blood as the sins of his people thudded upon his shoulders. The agony of it, the curtain wrenched and torn from top to bottom is a mighty preview of the Second Advent as we prepare for that eternal feast in heaven with Christ.
Under normal circumstances, when life is jolly: the presents are wrapped, the lists are checked off, the carols are trilling merrily in the background and everyone is quite happy and healthy, I would say something sweet, like: Advent is the anticipation of Christ’s return. A time to prepare ourselves for Christmas.
Years like this? When suffering and sickness are playing tag, and it is difficult to imagine how to survive the next twenty-four hours? Now I am desperate. Deep groanings. Jesus is coming back to make all things new, and I plead for his return.
In a rude stable Christ was born, in veritable obscurity, as a star sparkled in the heavens above him. In Christ, we too have a star overarching our painful, beautiful, God-ordained lives. It is a star called salvation, a gift for the ages: imperishable, and hidden with Christ on high.
Advent, for the true Christian, is a restless, holy, and deeply personal matter. A work between you and God alone. Pray to him, ask him to soften and ready your heart for his coming. Remember that he is always faithful.
This is the time to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Do not wait.
The pain, sickness, loneliness, and confusion on earth? None of these things may separate you from God. Remember, what Satan intends for harm, God will use for good (Genesis 50:20). There may be joy and growth in the midst of suffering. Draw near to him in repentance.
Whatever cup Christ has poured for me, I must steadfastly accept and drink. Suffering in itself does not make any of us holy, as suffering is universal. It is suffering well, the pressing into God with our open-handed Yes and Amen, trusting his good plans when they hurt most, when the glass seems dim and we do not understand how he can allow such terrible cutting shards into our lives, that makes us more like Christ, and deepens our relationship with him.
This frosty morning, on my walk, I stepped over a dead copperhead on the edge of the road. His head had been crushed.
My heart swelled at the consummate symbolism.
Satan has been crushed.
It is finished.
Come Lord Jesus, Come.