IVP - Strangely Dim - Surprise

December 21, 2007


I had big plans for Advent this year. Big plans to do nothing. My church gave me the idea first a few years ago by encouraging us to get our Christmas shopping done before the first Sunday of Advent. I vowed vehemently this year to finish by December 2 and seemed to almost make it, but looking back at my last few weeks, I wasn't as close as I thought.

A few months ago I was reminded in an IVP manuscript by Kimberly Conway Ireton that Advent is as much about Christ's second coming as Christmas is about his first coming. She offers practical ways to focus our hearts on the significance of the seasons of the church calendar, so since then, with her help, I've been preparing for Advent. I thought and prayed about something I could fast from. I ordered a Revised Common Lectionary with daily readings. I tried not to overschedule. I wanted Advent--one of my favorite times of the year--to be filled with longing for Christ.

The reality is, often it's hard for me to truly long for Christ and for his return. It's hard to long for what you already have, and since I've been a Christian virtually my whole life, I haven't known life without Christ. The celebration of his birth feels familiar and comfortable. And to be perfectly honest, it's hard for me to long for Christ's second coming too, because I know heaven is so far from what I can imagine that I don't even try to imagine it. That means I inevitably find myself longing mostly for what I know: moments of joy and peace and contentment on Earth.

Still, as measured on the Spiritual Gauge, the first week-and-a-half of Advent went relatively well. The Advent services at my church are always especially powerful in helping me reflect on the darkness of our world and the light Christ brought when he was born on Earth and still brings today as he continues to reveal himself in the world. I spent some time in silence. I prayed Psalm 42:1-2 and Psalm 63:1, asking God to fill me with longing for himself. I intentionally listened to a few songs that help me reflect on my own sinfulness and the gift of Christ coming as Savior. I got more sleep. My schedule was relatively clear.

But last week, my good-intentioned plans started to fall apart. A few unexpected expenses and a new budget caused money anxiety to set in. My schedule got busy--with mostly fun, life-giving activities, it's true, but you can only drink so much water--or so many holiday drinks from Starbucks, say--before you start to drown (or shake from the caffeine, as the case may be). I was running--and still trying to squeeze more things in. My daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary became rushed. My prayers from the Psalms became a little more sporadic. I got less sleep--a lot less sleep.

So here's where I'm at, four days from Christmas: I'm tired, with a youth group event to stop in at tonight, a serious packing session after that, even less sleep than I've been getting and a 6 a.m. flight to catch tomorrow before I will truly be on vacation. I'm disappointed in myself and the nature of my Advent, cringing when I hear people say (and when I've caught myself saying) "it's that time of year" in reference to their extraordinary busyness. I'm grieving the pain I know that friends and family and others around the world are experiencing. And yet, surprising to me, I am seeing even more clearly how powerful and true the light of Christ is--Christ, the only real source of hope in our broken, hurting world. And, even more surprising to me, I am longing for Christ more, and for his return, because I can imagine friends and family free from the pain that's come from the Fall, and that glimpse of heaven is enough to make me long for it more.

I shouldn't be surprised at the ways Christ is meeting me, I know, since he's in the habit of showing up and answering prayers in unexpected times and places--after hundreds of years of waiting, even--right in the midst of our busyness and pain and failure. Mary (not to mention the rest of the Israelites) certainly didn't expect Christ to come to her the way he did. And I imagine her pregnancy--including a long donkey ride to Bethlehem--and delivery in a stable didn't go as she might have imagined them (perhaps in a nice room with her mother at her side?). Coming in unexpected ways is Christ's way.

So however your Advent has been--stressful, busy ("Is it Advent?" some of you are asking), decorationless, peaceful--


"What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn't put it out." (John 1:4-5 The Message)

And the Life-Light blazes still.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at December 21, 2007 1:55 PM Bookmark and Share


wouldn't Christmas be better with out gifts, no panic last dashes, no money woes, no wasting paper on wrap, no encouraging Santa, no bribing kids to be good, no x-mas lists to exceed, only set the bar higher for next year. Save trees, don't cut one, reduce toxins, don't buy artificial...from China. Spend time with friends and family, eat great food... All that time, energy and money could be used for so much more.

Comment by: Sheri at January 1, 2008 12:10 PM

I don't long for Christ's return as much as I should either! We tend to settle for the joys here on earth! However, I agree with Sheri. ENJOY the most precious blessings God has given us: our families and friends!

Comment by: Danielle at January 2, 2008 8:01 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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