Advent: The Now and Not-Yet

By Shelly Duffer Published on December 16, 2016

I always love the beginning of the Advent season. There is the anticipatory air that accompanies it from the first Sunday through the march of weeks up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The mood changes beginning with the first weekend. Houses begin to sport Christmas lights. Pictures of newly decorated Christmas trees start to dot our Facebook feeds. It becomes “acceptable” to listen to Christmas music (though some of us started listening weeks earlier — ahem, guilty.) Children start dropping hints about what they hope to find under the Christmas tree.

And Advent wreaths are dusted off and placed in sanctuaries across the world, to be lit as a part of worship during the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve.

Hope!

I love that the first candle — a purple candle, traditionally — is considered to be the candle that represents “Hope” in the Advent devotional. Because after all, isn’t that what we yearn for the deepest? Isn’t that what our souls long for when we contemplate the Christ child’s birth?

I know that it is so, with my own soul.

I think we find words that best describe this hope in that wondrous part of the book of Isaiah which tells of Jesus’ coming. Can you sense the magnitude of hope here in chapter nine? “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)

In the Darkness

When we are in the throes of tremendous darkness (and we all experience this at one time or another, in our lives), the dark can weigh so heavily that at times it feels impossible to take the next breath. Suffocating. Drowning. That is exactly what hopelessness feels like: oppressive, suffocating darkness.

Advent is Now. And Advent is the Not Yet. But the “Not Yet” is coming. There will be a day.

Have you ever visited one of the caves of the Midwest? Maybe you been in Tom Sawyer’s cave, in Hannibal, MO. Or Luray Caverns, in VA. Or possibly Mammoth Cave, in KY? I’ve been to all three, and have taken their touristy “Cave Tours”. They always fascinate me — but not because of the beautiful stalactites or stalagmites (I still don’t remember which is which), or the stories of outlaws who hid out in the caves, or the perfect reflecting pools that some contain.

No, the part that always fascinates me is when the tour guide tells everyone to stand perfectly still while they turn off the lights for a brief minute.

Within a breath, everyone in the cave is instantly plunged into the deepest dark imaginable. Usually the tour guide will tell everyone to “wave your hands in front of your faces” — and inevitably there is a murmuring among the guests, because no one can see their hands, even though they are waving them right before their eyes. For most people, it’s the deepest dark they have ever physically been in.

But it’s not the deepest dark of their lives. Because there are times in our lives when we experience hopelessness that equals or is greater than that sense of darkness experienced in a cave tour. Sometimes, the circumstances of our lives plunge us into that depth of darkness, and all sense of hope is gone: maybe its an illness, or an impending divorce.

Maybe it is the tragic loss of someone we dearly love, or maybe it is financial ruin. Maybe it is our very own sin — and maybe it is someone else’s, that we are a victim of.

Hopelessness is so very dark. And cold. And lonely.

The Shattering of Hopelessness

That’s the kind of hopelessness that Isaiah is referring to, here in Chapter 9, verse 2. That’s the kind of hopelessness that was shattered by the light of our Messiah’s birth. And that’s the kind of hopelessness that we occasionally know today, even as Christ followers. Yet we also know that it is only temporary, because the celebration of Advent is not just a celebration of Christ’s birth so many years ago, but also a celebration of what is yet to come: His return.

Advent is Now. And Advent is the Not Yet. But the “Not Yet” is coming. There will be a day.

Amen. Come quickly. Lord.

As we wait, there will be dark times; that is the nature of life in this fallen world. There will be days of deep sadness — such as the sadness that my dear friend and landlord is experiencing today, as he mourns the death of his daughter who passed away last night in the early morning hours. She was 46 years old; my age. A very difficult thing for a father to bear.

There will be sleepless nights. There will be worries over the future. There will be relationships that are torn, that we wonder if will ever be mended. There will be times when we are mired in our own sinfulness that snuffs out the light; and times when we are victims of other’s sinfulness that also brings down a curtain of darkness that does not seem to lift.

There will be times in which we grieve. Deeply.

The Now and the Not Yet

And yet, those of us who are Christ-followers, know this to be truth: We do not grieve as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) We don’t. We can’t, because if we did, then we would do so in unbelief that Jesus is who He said He was — our Savior. Our Forgiver of Sins. The Sacrifice that paid for our sins.

So, we celebrate the Now and the Not Yet of Advent. We sit in silent wonder that Jesus was born to a virgin teenager in a small, no-account town named Bethlehem. He taught things that were life-changing. And, then He changed lives forever, when He died on the cross in our place and then rose again three days later, to ascend to be with His Father.

And Advent reminds us that He will return, to take us Home. There will be a day.

 

Originally published at All Is Well. Used by permission.

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