Expectations often determine the success or failure of an occasion, not the occasion itself.
Advent is one of those crazy seasons that is rife with possibilities and builds excitement. It is about the addition of a routine to daily life focused solely on the birth of Christ. For some it is a weekly event of lighting a candle. For others there is a daily ritual. In our house, my daughter wakes every morning looking to move one of the nativity characters from the countdown up to the actual scene. She even suggested that she could move more than one each day so that we could add the baby Jesus more quickly and He could celebrate the season with us! Every evening we read a portion of the story of the birth of Jesus from scripture and have a small activity or prayer to help remind us of who Jesus is and all He came to offer the world with His life. This is precious, beautiful and relatively easy at the level we are doing this for our young girls.
Advent is not so easy for many adults. The promises of hope, of change, transformation of a new life are there and yet, year after year, struggles and disappointments come. Year after year it seems a break cannot be caught and the cumulative impact can become overwhelming.
Perhaps it is, in part, about expectation. Advent is about the coming of Christ, about the incarnation and all the expectations which are wrapped in this one event. It is about the world being changed. This is key, it is about the world, not any one individual. Even more difficult is in looking around and we are so much more aware of how broken and fragmented the world is. When I was younger I thought horrific stories were unusual, isolated events, Now they seem commonplace.
This was confusing until my perspective began to change and I matured a little. As with much of scripture, all that surrounds the birth of Jesus is more about God than about us. This was reversed somewhere along the way and advent and certainly Christmas became more about us and what God was going to do for us than about celebrating the very presence of the Holy One.
Advent does not wipe away poverty or abuse, racism or the heartache over loss. It is a difficult juxtaposition to have sparkly lights all around when it feels like your world is falling apart. Perhaps it is that single light from the story of the birth to which we need to look. A single star shining and reminding us all that this world is not the end of the story. That we have a now and not yet. That it is OK to celebrate and look for blessings even in a world that can seem to be lacking in hope and abundance. That God loves us so much that He was willing to step out of the comfort of heaven and be with us, Emmanuel. Perhaps advent is the reminder that we too get to be with one another in good times and bad; invited to holy ground.
This advent season, take heart. It is both about what we celebrate as we remember the birth of Jesus as well as all that He offered in His life, death and resurrection.
Advent is a beautiful season, and it is not the end of the story.