Advent has always been a time of waiting and anticipation. I remember as a child opening a window every day on the Advent calendar with a twinge of excitement. There was a sense of thrill thinking about gifts, special foods, and family rituals. Each of them gave a feeling of belonging – that someone cared. Advent, culminating with Christmas is also a celebration with lights, music, concerts, nativity plays and decorations. People feel generous and drop that little extra into the Salvation army pot, or figure out some way to give to those begging, whom we would normally see as a nuisance. We wish each other well and send greetings. There is a sense that life is good and this is reinforced by the recitation of the Christmas story, that God cared enough about the world and us that He came in human form so that we would know him. Reruns of movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” seem to tell us that no matter how bad it is, it all works out in the end in this life. Every Advent, all this brings back memories of childhood and times that were seemingly innocent, and we yearn for the world to be like that again.
This year, Advent has a new meaning for me. As I have listened to story after story of heart breaking cruelty, violence and indiscriminate killing, I find myself sickened by what the world is and want desperately to believe that all this will one day end. One of our partners told us about a mother with two young children who had come to their clinic looking for help. A few days earlier while fleeing across the border from Syria, her husband had been arrested and she had no idea if he was still alive or dead. They had lost everything in the process and had no place to live and no way to support themselves. Similar stories are repeated over and over again. This is not the way life should be! I find myself wondering if anything in our world will ever change and in my spirit asking desperately, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth just as it is in heaven”.
For the first time I understand Simeon and Anna in the Christmas story (Luke 2: 25-38) and the excitement when they saw God’s promised Saviour. What is it about a small baby that absolutely thrilled them? They had waited years in anticipation in the midst of the brutality of the Roman occupation and had seen or heard of the hundreds crucified by the roadside as various Jewish political movements and rebellions had tried to win freedom and failed. They had witnessed the grueling poverty in which 70% of the Israelites lived in, and the callousness of the wealthy of the day as they abused and cheated the poor of what little they had left. Yet it seems that Simeon and Anna believed that this is not the way God had intended the world to be and that He would one day set it right. The little baby was God’s promise.
Advent for me has become a reminder of this waiting and anticipation that Christ will return, His Kingdom will be established here on earth, and there would be an end to brutality, injustice and poverty. The promise is that “every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low”, every tear will be wiped away, swords will be turned into plowshares, children will not die prematurely, and that the elderly will not be displaced but die in their own homes. But there are days I despair just thinking how foolish it is to believe in something so radical when the reality around me is so hard and cold. Do I dare tell people about this promise?