The human story consists of lots of waiting:
Finding your soulmate.
Standing in line to get brunch.
For each of these, we can make use of our time in any number of different ways. We can either effectively use the time at hand or become impatient and even downright frustrated with all the time on our hands. Take it from me-I love my soulmate, my kids, and my job, but as I waited for all of these I cannot honestly say I always waited with active anticipation. Sometimes I did, sometimes not.
And what do I mean by active anticipation?
With our children, active anticipation meant lots of prayer, stroller research and procurement, parenting books, and talking to friends with kids. And, well, lots of other kinds of anticipation. At worst, I was just nervous about a baby in our family. But at our best, Kaile and I actively anticipated the birth of our two boys.
With my job, active anticipation meant prayer, listening, networking, possibly too much education, and genuine effort at all the jobs preceding my current ministry work. At worst, I was preoccupied and missed out on opportunities that were right in front of me. At best, I actively did these things in anticipation of God providing the right *next* job opportunity.
With my soulmate/wife, active anticipation meant prayer, *crafty* romance, discernment, and listening to the wisdom of friends, family, mentors, but most of all to God’s Spirit. I really do see God at work in the foundational months of our relationship. At worst, I compromised friendships because of my new relationship with Kaile [and did late-night walks with her when I should have been sleeping or studying!]. At best, our years dating helped each of us understand the other as we actively anticipated the challenges of married life and the rigor of the family life we hoped to have.
Now, the turn to Advent.
Again, the human story in God’s world consists of waiting and anticipation:
The world waited for God to show up before He made promises to Abraham.
Israel, Abraham’s progeny, anticipated release from Egyptian captivity.
The people of Israel anticipated a Messiah [Jesus] to prove God faithful.
Israel’s expansion, the church, anticipate Messiah’s return.
For each of these, the people groups represented either made or currently make use of their time in various ways. In Exodus, we learn that the cries of the enslaved Israelites ascended to God, sort of like the smell of smoke rising up from a fire. They actively anticipated freedom, yet strangely wanted to return once set free. When the Jewish people settled along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, they actively anticipated a messiah-especially as they were feeling crushed under the heel of the oppressive Roman empire.
We hear this anticipation in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, and most poignantly in the Songs of Isaiah.
And now, we Christians actively anticipate the return of Christ. He appeared on earth, ministered, died, rose again, ascended to heaven, then promised to return-and we take this very seriously! We actively anticipate/await his return by practicing our faith. God is made known in the natural world, in the cosmos, in Scripture, and in the church. That last bit-the church-is important!
I write this as a Christian, and with the purpose of offering the church [all folks who follow Jesus!] a thought on how to participate in Advent as we continue toward Christmas.
Here are a few very specific ways we can actively anticipate the return of Jesus during the waiting season known as Advent.
1. Be still and know that God is God.
How often do we genuinely slow down and notice God? As well-known as this invitation from Psalm 46:10 is, it may well be equally ignored. We are sometimes so caught up in ourselves that we miss out on an awesome, meaningful conversation, a beautiful vista, or a small opportunity to help a stranger. The hand of God is at work within all of life, and he speaks; however, we need to listen [and yes, I’m speaking straight to myself here]!
2. Forgive someone.
Send a message or write a letter to a friend or family member with whom you’re at odds. Have a real conversation with someone at your workplace. Open up that old memory of frustration toward someone far away who hurt you, and see if God used time to help heal-then make the human connection and let them know there is forgiveness.
Practicing forgiveness is hard work! But it’s necessary work. Providing motivation for us to forgive, we learn in Scripture that God’s goals for human interaction are so perfect
3. Love others by giving away your time/talent/treasures.
Funny that we’re heading toward the end of the calendar year, a time when people often give to charity or to churches to save tax dollars! But giving money away is only one way to bless others like we have been blessed by God. There are a host of ways to give away our time: plug in to your church and serve in youth or childrens’ ministry. Mentor someone. Get involved in a local charity. Serve food at a shelter in your city. Prepare hygiene kits at a domestic abuse center. You know there’s something you can do to the least of these, as Jesus calls them in Matthew 25. And as you do good unto them, Jesus tells us it’s as if we’re doing it for him.
4. Honor the People Closest to You
For some reason, it’s easy to be extra mean to family members. Since we are comfortable with those closest to us, we are often also the meanest. As we long for all things to be right and good and made new through the work of Jesus, we can actively anticipate his arrival by doing the difficult daily work of nurturing relationships with our spouse, kids, sisters, brothers, and parents.
5. Get Creative
I can sit here making lists of ideas for you, but chances are you have some ideas of your own that might just work better for your situation. Don’t let me stand in the way of an incredible opportunity or world-shaking idea.