A regular sound that appears in December, especially if you have kids, is the sound of running down the stairs and opening the door which hides the chocolate for the day. Each morning we open our advent calendar door, but wait 24 hours for the next door.
Advent means waiting. It’s a season of anticipation, and for the patient among us the daily opening of the advent calendar door builds the excitement towards Christmas Day. But there is a lot more within Advent… It’s a precious time for us to stop, to think, to ponder what it actually means to wait for Jesus.
The Christmas story starts with scandal. The King of Kings isn’t born into a plush hospital ward with fairy lights and a log fire. Jesus’s arrival is ugly. He is born to a young, scared girl who is found to be pregnant before she is married and written off in a shameful scandal. She is taken a long way from her home and her family, with a man she probably barely knew, only to go through the fear and pain of labour in a filthy, sweaty, exposed stable, with no one to help or to soothe her. This is not a pretty picture. This picture is painful, and dirty, and shameful. This is not a Christmas card you’d want to send.
It stuns me every year that this is how God chose to enter our world– ‘no room at the inn’ wasn’t a surprise. There is no better picture of why Jesus came to us than by the way he chose to be born. The God of the universe became the weakest, smallest thing – a human baby. He chose a scared, unmarried girl to be his mother. He chose a tiny, nowhere town and he chose his first visitors to be rough locals, nameless working-class men from the nearby hillside. His first gift was embalming fluid for a dead body.
Jesus came for these people. Jesus came to heal the shame of scandal. He came to repair broken relationships and to bring light to the darkest of hearts. He came to banish fear, and loneliness, and human brokenness. Jesus came to die that death, and to claim final victory over it forever.
And at Advent, it is this that we are waiting for.
At Christmas we remember and rejoice in his first coming. It is right that we meditate on this story and challenge our hard hearts to be amazed by it yet again.
But that is not the end of the story; of our story. To really understand Christmas means to look ahead to the final part of this story, when Jesus will come again - yet not in shame and scandal, but in stunning glory and majesty. At Christmas we look forward to the final victory march at the end of the battle. Christ’s birth means the beginning of the end of this story, where all tears are wiped and all fear is chased away. The sleepless nights, the hollow sobs, the despair of the coming morning and the anger of the night before – all are shadows, wisps of smoke that are blown away. Standing before Christ on the final day of battle, all these evils will be ancient memories, as if in a dream. We will be unable to look back, so transfixed are we by the utter beauty of the Lord Jesus. We will finally, finally, be made new, and transformed into the people we were always meant to be, where our true joy is only and always Christ.
Advent means straining ahead to this final day.