Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
I heard ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ for the first time this past week. People of faith singing out with such longing, such desire. It made me sad.
There are a lot of things that can make us sad at this time of year.
In part, it is melancholy – a sober thoughtfulness as we prepare. Maybe we think of Christmases past, people no longer with us, some regret, distance from those we love, separation, an unresolved conflict we wish had never happened. We think about those things with longing – a wish things were different.
Perhaps we are sad as we bang our heads against the wall trying to get ready. Shopping, buying, spending – will they be happy and satisfied? Did I measure up? Decorating, dragging out the dusty trees and ornaments. Looking at it all, and comparing to the neighbors – are we good enough this year? The lights that didn’t go on quite straight. Not being Martha Stewart in the kitchen. Remembering at the end of it all we just have to put it all away. Then all the crowds and the traffic. We think about those things longing that it would be different – a wish things could be simple once again.
Listen to the words from the Prophet Isaiah: Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants. The people of Israel were crying out. They had lost their way, they lost sight of God. They wanted His promises, His consolation. They wanted His presence, the coming of Emmanuel. They knew they were missing out. Things weren’t the way they were meant to be. They were sad, melancholy.
The key to Advent is to connect to the reason for the underlying sadness in our lives. We do many things to fill our lives, including what we do to fill the Christmas season ahead, but none of that is really able to help us deal with the melancholy or longing within us. None of it can silence what is calling us.
So how do we find what will fill us, what will bring us the fullness of joy and contentment? We start by finding some common ground with what Israel was going through, to put ourselves in their place. If we take the time to reflect on their longing, their melancholy, their sadness – we begin to connect with the gift God was getting ready to give them. He definitely heard their plaintive cries – and sent His Son to them, the Messiah, Emmanuel. If we spend this Advent season in prayer, scriptural reading, and reflection, listening for the voice of the Spirit, we will find Him pointing us to Jesus. Then we will find our hearts and minds really calling out for the fullness of what will satisfy.
Unlike Israel, we have an advantage. Our hope is a post salvation hope. Yet we still long. Advent connects us to this remaining longing. Our hearts and minds call out for the fullness of what will remove all sadness, melancholy, and longing. Advent connects us to the event that will satisfy – Jesus’ return and entry into the kingdom. Let us be ready. Return, return, Emmanuel!