If you, O Lord, were to keep track of sins,
O Lord, who could stand before you?
But you are willing to forgive,
I yearn for the Lord,
more than watchmen do for the morning,
yes, more than watchmen do for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord,
for the Lord exhibits loyal love,
and is more than willing to deliver.
He will deliver Israel
from all the consequences of their sins. – Psalm 130
“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Saviour,
… He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.” – Luke 1:46, 52-53
Advent is a time of waiting … of expecting … of hoping …
God’s rule and reign is about to appear, but it’s not quite here yet. You can see the signs (Mary’s belly is about to burst it’s so big), but when it will happen and what it will look like are still unclear.
And for me, this makes joy an unusual thing to consider during advent.
I am the kind of person who likes to downplay exciting things because I may be disappointed. Let’s not think about what this could mean because the truth will likely only pale in comparison to what I expect.
The problem with this way of thinking is that I am thinking.
I’m not actually allowing myself to experience my emotions. I’m so afraid of disappointment that I won’t allow myself to hope, to anticipate, to rejoice.
We are funny creatures.
I recently was listening to a teaching on Psalm 130 where it talks about longing for the Lord more than watchmen do for the morning. Now this is an old metaphor, but the point would seem to be that a watchman is longing for morning because it is a long and tiring night and when the light finally appears, he can relax, finish up his job and go home. But the teacher here made a deeper point. He pointed out that we often experience things (in this metaphor, morning) more in the waiting than we do when it actually arrives. The watchman is more focused on the morning while he is waiting than when it finally comes.
Let’s go back to 8.5-month-pregnant Mary to think practically about what this means.
If you have ever known a mother-to-be in the last month of a pregnancy, you know their life is completely centred on the baby about to enter the world. Whether they want to or not, every waking moment is a reminder they are about to give birth.
And plans have to be made.
Rooms need to be painted.
Everything needs to be made ready.
There is an excitement to this preparation. It is done with gladness and they can’t wait to meet their new baby (we’ll ignore the frustrated impatience that comes once the due date passes). There may be fear and nerves as well, but they are usually drowned out by the excitement of this soon-to-be, massive change in their lives.
Now once labour is over and the baby has arrived, there is usually a sense of relief mixed with joy. Everything has gone well and now mommy and daddy are exhausted (and will remain exhausted for the next 17 years). Yes they are filled with joy and love with the new life in their arms, but it is joined by other feelings of responsibility, relief and terror (maybe terror is unique to me).
The point is that joy comes with anticipation, expectation, hope. We feel joy in advance of the actual event – more-so, sometimes, than once the event actually arrives.
This does not make what happens any less amazing, it is just that waiting with anticipation allows the experience to begin before it begins.
“Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people” – Luke 2:10
In the Christmas story, the shepherd are told not to be afraid because the message they are about to hear will bring great joy to everyone.
And the emotion they were experiencing that was about to be replaced by joy was ……… fear!
My fear is disappointment. That letting myself anticipate something will lead to dissatisfaction once it arrives. And yes, that happens sometimes, but not here. Not in this.
To me, the angel is saying “Do not be afraid. This news will bring joy to everyone! Even you.”
At advent, the news is that God’s redemptive work is about to be completed. God is about to take on flesh, enter into humanity’s fallenness and make things right. “For our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God.” (Romans 8:18-19)
God’s plan for us is bigger than we know or can imagine.
And that is something worth anticipating with joy. It may not be fully realized in our lives yet …
… but it is coming!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!”