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The Tension of Waiting: Reflections on the Advent Season

We’re more than nine months in to this global pandemic; exhaustion and fatigue are settling in. Uncertainty continues even with the hope of “imminent” vaccines on the horizon… There is still more waiting ahead. Waiting to feel safe again. Waiting to see family and loved ones. Waiting to not be afraid. Waiting for a return to some sense of “normal”…

"There is just a fundamental hatred of having to wait." - Dan Allender

Here we are in the midst of Advent. The season of remembering the long awaited arrival of “the king of the Jews,” the savior of humanity, Jesus Christ the Son of God… And yet also the waiting of His future return to make all things right. The already and the not yet. We’re celebrating, “He is come!” and still aching for “When will He come again?”

This feels a lot like how we are living right now. There is some level of gratitude, some small measure of joy that we can feel in the midst of chaos, despair and disruption and yet there is an aching, a deep sense of longing for a future reality that has not yet come to pass.

"I think we are literally in the kind of soil of this year that’s closest to Gospel arrival than any we’ve ever been." - Dan Allender

Danielle and I had the chance to chat with the Allender Center’s Rachael Clinton-Chen and Dr. Dan Allender on the Arise Podcast about the tension in waiting, in this season of COVID and in the season of Advent both now and more than 2000 years ago.

Rachael says this year Advent feels more akin to the biblical story of the context of Jesus breaking into the world. Because of that, we have an opportunity to let the ache of advent permeate us more truthfully. Our joy is in the one who comes to be with us; no one can take that away even in a global pandemic, even as police brutality continues, even as socio-economic disparities are heightened, loved ones are lost… There is so much heartache at this moment in time. And yet, there is something inside her that says, “May we encounter something of God who comes to be with us even in the brutality and the heartache.” A God that says, “I am with you and there is something redemptive about your humanity that I am willing to enter in to make a way for you.”

Even in the “joy” Rachael thinks Advent has been co-opted by a Hallmark style Christmas, even down to the words we use. “Hope,” “joy,” “peace” and “love” in a biblical sense are held with great tension. They are more complex and robust than we often use today. There is a sense of waiting in exile for God to arrive with a deeper inner awareness of our own need. These words then are the heart cry of what we long for as we live in the juxtaposition of what does not feel or is not true of our Christmas.

And yet.

And yet there is great sorrow and despair even amidst the hope. Dan says the assumption that this is a joyous season on the basis of Scripture is ridiculous; this is a season in which Joseph and Mary are being sent back to Bethlehem for governmental purposes in order to raise taxes. This is a season of tension, exhaustion and fear. It is one of wild, crazy unpredictability, where we are invited to hold a level of extremity that is the very gospel itself: both incredible grief and glorious joy. Jesus’ birth is the victorious beginning… But what is the weapon against the kingdom of darkness? A baby. "Really?! You’ve got to be kidding me? This is staggeringly ridiculous!” The incarnation and the humility of God to disrupt the universe on the basis of the absurd, the ridiculous, the compelling and the beautiful all held together….

Even after the baby Jesus’ arrival there is still waiting. Danielle says it feels like Jesus was born with an ache. “What took you so long to get here? Can’t you see how bad it is?” And then to think, “How long is it going to take for you to make a difference?”

This Advent I feel so very close to this tension. I feel it in my body and in my heart. Aching and groaning, expectant for a future renewal…

You can listen to the entire conversation on the podcast here or anywhere you get your podcast.

Originally posted on 12/9/2020 on The Arise Podcast Blog


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