Prepare Your Heart for the Joy and Longing of Advent

On Christmas, we rejoice over the birth of Jesus. But the Advent season is also a time of longing for his return.

For many, the days leading up to Christmas are full of joy. We go to parties. We wrap gifts. We decorate our homes and offices, and we enjoy the tree lightings and Christmas music as we shop for presents or walk around the city.

Most importantly, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the incredible story of our great and humble God who became a man.

And yet, at heart, Advent is a time of longing.

During the Christmas season, we most often hear stories from the beginning of the gospels. The angels deliver messages to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. John describes Christ’s birth as “the light come into the world.” Linus reads from Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Like the authors of the gospels, we also quote Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Christ:

“Unto us a child is born.
Unto us a Son is given.
And the government will be upon his shoulder.
And his name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
(Isaiah 9:6-7, NKJV)

If we continue to read in Isaiah, however, we realize that the prophet speaks not joyfully, but with longing. Between the prophecy and its fulfillment, Isaiah knows, God’s people will go through hard times:

“Those who lead these people have misled them and totally confused them… Everywhere in the country people snatch and eat any bit of food they can find, but their hunger is never satisfied… The people of Manasseh and the people of Ephraim attack each other, and together they attack Judah.”
(Isaiah 9:16, 20a, 21, GNT)

Isaiah speaks of the Messiah in the midst of national moral decline and international tumult. He sees people experience the consequences of their own actions. Even the faithful and vulnerable suffer because of the actions of their neighbors.

The prophet waits expectantly, but not with jump-up-and-down excitement. He is aching: “Lord, how long?”

The joy of the Messiah stems from hearts saddened by a hurting and sinful world. Jesus is long-expected because God’s people still suffer from war, want, and hatred. The Advent season calls for Christmas carols in the minor key:

“Come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appears.”

During Advent, Isaiah’s longing becomes our longing. Isaiah’s hope for a Savior is our hope, too. We read the Christmas story in the gospels with joy, for we have found the Messiah in Jesus. We celebrate not only a baby born in a stable, but a King who will make the world whole.

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