Before big events in our athletic career we get anxious. I remember vividly the 2013 National Championship immediately after having won the 2012 American Open. I had high expectations of myself and of my finish. The videos of my competition had grown and the numbers on the bar had gotten bigger and bigger. I specifically remember my main competitor, Mike Szela, smoking 131 and 158 in training. That video still sticks out in my memory. The closer I got to the event, the more anxious I got. The more eager I got. I counted down the days. I prepared more decisively. I’m there right now as I get ready to compete tomorrow. However, after the meet, the anxiety disappears. The adrenaline calms. The nerves relax. I moved on to the next one. The highs of the competition and the joy of victory subside.
The season of advent historically is the 4 weeks preceding Christmas day in which Christians celebrate both the 1st coming of Jesus and acknowledge the anxious waiting we have for the second coming. Much like I found myself anxiously awaiting stepping on the platform at the 2013 Nationals, the four weeks preceding Christmas are meant to cause us to anxiously await and anticipate the celebration of Christ’s first coming, the first Advent of Jesus. It’s also designed to press us to remember to wait eagerly for the second coming of Christ. A blog I constantly frequent from the Village Church says this about advent:
Advent, formed from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival,” is about the coming of Christ. It’s the traditional celebration of the first advent of Jesus and the anxious awaiting of His second. The season is a time for remembering and rejoicing, watching and waiting, and a time to reflect upon the promises of God and to anticipate the fulfillment of those promises with patience, prayer and preparedness.
These four weeks (now three) are set before believers as a chance to set our hearts on the Lord. To see, amidst the lights and peppermint and nativity sets, the Christ. The Savior of the world, sent as God’s plan for redemption of His people and the reconciliation of the world. Matthew 13:17 reminds us that for hundreds of years the prophets longed to see Jesus, hear Him speak, experience the Messiah. These four weeks we spend anticipating Christmas day should be a time where our heart is set on Christ and our desires set on His return. A time when we are anxiously waiting the day marked by His first coming, and a time where we find ourselves anxiously anticipating the day when He will come again. Philippians 3:20-21 reminds believers that because we are citizens of heaven, we find ourselves anxiously waiting His return by which He will restore and redeem the broken world.
Christmas has a feeling of anticipation built into it. The lights, the carols, the parties, and the decorations create an aura of joy and anticipation. Those things are all meant to press us toward Christ. As Colossians 2:17 puts it, these celebratory vessels are meant to be shadows of the substance of Christ. Shadows of the Messiah who came thousands of years ago, and a shadow of His return. These pieces of nostalgia are meant to press us to the true substance that creates that shadow, Christ.
Yet we get drawn into the secularization of the holiday. Our joy is stolen from us as we yearn for the shadows themselves and not the substance. We make Santa our better, more palatable, safer Jesus. We make the pinnacle of the holiday the moment we run out to the tree to tear open presents. Jon Bloom in his thoughts on advent displays this truth so well stating:
There’s nothing wrong with a little aesthetic, nostalgic Christmas romance. God made us sentimental beings to increase our enjoyment of and gratitude for his many past graces. But if the romance and nostalgia become the substance, the pursuit of our Christmas celebrations, then they become deceptive — mirages of joy that disappear as soon as we reach for their illusive promise. And that is what Christmas has become for so many: a joy mirage, or perhaps a joy fantasy. This can be true even for Christians. When we look for joy in our traditions rather than through our traditions, joy short-circuits. Looking for joy in the Christmas trappings and traditions is like opening a beautifully wrapped package with a tag that reads “Joy Inside,” only to find the box empty. That’s because our Christmas traditions don’t so much house joy as much as they point to joy. If we want our joy voids filled, we must look less at Christmas and more through Christmas to where indestructible, unspeakable joy really is.
I pray as we are three weeks from Christmas that we don’t allow the nostalgia and feeling surrounding Christmas to be the substance of our joy, but instead see them as a shadow of things to come. A shadow that points us to the true substance of joy, Jesus. I pray this advent, this season of anticipation, we might find ourselves more drawn to Christ than to reindeer. More drawn to the joy of the Gospel than to the ornaments on our tree. And more satisfied in our Savior than finding a new Iphone 6 under the tree. This whole season does have a special feeling and it is nostalgic. It’s meant that way as a catalyst to drive us to Christ.
What’s best about setting our joy in Him and not the holiday? The wrapping paper will eventually go to the trash. The tree will be put in the attic. The gifts will eventually be over-used and boring. BUT Christ will still be there, and His second coming is still on the horizon. His joy will never leave.