The holidays can be hard for me sometimes. Amidst the commercials featuring silver bells and white Christmas trees, there seems to be a under-dwelling feeling of sadness, somberness and anxiety that comes along with the arrival of the season. The holidays can produce a sense of longing in me that doesn’t seem to be met, no matter how white my Christmas is. It is ironic that in the season we celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior, we feel and realize our angst and anxiety the most. It is my belief this angst is common with Advent, because Advent reminds us of a desired wholeness that only the coming of our Lord and Savior produces.
Advent is derived from the Latin word meaning “to come”. It is the name given to the season that counts the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. The coming that Advent celebrates is the prophecy by Isaiah about the arrival of a Messiah through the Davidic covenant (Isa. 7:14). At the point we learn of the name Immanuel, which means “God with us”, Israel had not been taken captive just yet. Later in the book, after captivity and exile had taken place, Israel is expected to remember God’s promises of restoration. Their Messiah would come and would deliver them from captivity, not just physically but spiritually.
For every coming, every Advent, there is a waiting. For Israel, their Advent waiting was almost 800 years after the prophecy. I believe the waiting was filled with seasons of longing, anxiety, and angst that only the coming of the Messiah could fix. And when this Messiah came, He fulfilled everything promised us (Matt. 1:22-23). He righted our wrongs with God, the Father (Romans 5:1); He lived a perfect life and His righteousness is attributed to us (Romans 5:17); He showed us the Father and bridged the sinful chasm that separated us from Him (Col. 1:21-22). With the Coming of Jesus, the longing should have been fulfilled. And even so, as present day believers, our Advents are still filled with a longing that doesn’t seem to be shaken off easily. Are we still waiting? And if so, for what?
This idea of waiting and longing is why one of my favorite Christmas songs ever written is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It captures the waiting beautifully.
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appears
During the holidays, it doesn’t take much to feel like a lonely exile. As believers, we are sojourners in the earth, every day getting closer to glory and seeing our Savior face-to-face, but not quite there yet.
It is my belief that the reason we still feel an angst in this season is because it reminds us that although we are purchased and perfected in the eyes of God, we still must journey through this life without being made holistically perfect just yet. 2 Corinthians 5:2 says that our soul groans as we long to be perfected. There are still voids and holes in our being that won’t be filled until the other side of glory. And it is in the recognition of these internal gaps that we feel the need and long for the completion of Shalom. Our Advent waiting, then, is not only a reflection of the Lord’s first coming, but an eschatological expectancy of the Lord’s Second Coming. So how do we deal with this angst, this incompletely fulfilled longing that produces anxiety? We rejoice and we believe.
Rejoicing is the last thing I want to do when I’m struggling with anxiety, and belief seems impossible in those seasons. But while these may seem impossible, there are plenty of promises that make them doable. For one, although we are not complete now, we will be complete one day, for we serve a God who will see His work to completion (Phil. 1:6). Though we suffer with anxiety and angst, we do not suffer alone as we serve a God who never leaves nor forsakes us (Joshua 1:5, 9). When it may seem hard to trust in God’s promises, remember the reason for Advent is to be reminded that God did keep his promise, His promise to deliver His children from exile — physically and spiritually! He promised us a Savior and He delivered on that promise. His character can be trusted high above our feelings, and even higher above what any Christmas gift could ever promise you.
The Lord knows we are a creation begging for full restoration. He knows His physical creation groans inwardly with us as we look for the day where all things are made new, where Heaven meets Earth permanently and our God dwells here with us eternally. Our souls long for this day; and every holiday season that tries to promise this falls severely short. And so our souls continues to ache. It is riddled with impatience, anxiety, and angst. And yet, we rejoice. Our Emmanuel has come and is coming again. His Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of the Father’s children now and points us towards the coming restoration. So, even amid your inner turmoil, be encouraged this Advent season. Your fullness of joy is coming.