I could feel the seconds tick by as if the second hand was caught in molasses, despite the anticipation that takes my family and the world by storm this time of year. The kids wanted to open another advent box on the calendar and I wanted nothing more than 8 p.m. to get here—bedtime.
It would be the moment I could stop pretending to be joy-filled about Advent.
I’m not feeling very Advent-y this year. And it feels like a crime. How could I have lost the sense of wonder? How could my breath not be taken away as the snow falls outside my window, blanketing the earth in anticipation of the coming King? How did it get to this?
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Reconnecting with the Meaning of Advent
With the world screaming of holiday cheer, gifts, and Advent, I realize I’ve become numb. It seems the meaning of the season is lost in translation as we check off another Advent box, shove another Advent chocolate in our mouth, and wash it down with that red-cupped latte; as we dash into just one more store before arriving late to yet another obligatory event or activity.
My cynical thoughts plague me when I realize my not so advent-y self is burned out on all of the doing when the season is about being.
The season of Advent is defined as the coming into being or the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. The word Advent comes from the Latin term “adventus,” meaning “arrival” and is marked by the four Sundays preceding Christmas.
It’s a season set aside to for Christians to prepare for the pending celebration of the birth of our King and the means to our salvation.
We use the term to describe the first season of the Christian church year marked by the four Sundays before Christmas, before celebrating the arrival of the Christ-child. Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we’re feeling, what is at stake in our hearts, our spirit, and in the world. It allows us to tell the truth about why we’re grieving, why we feel lost, and what lays dormant in our hearts like the blanket of snow covering the earth.
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Advent is Longing and Waiting in Hope
Advent is the about the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of what is to come. Advent is when the world held its breath, pregnant with the pleading. Christmas is the answer to pleading. Advent says the Baby is on the way. Christmas says Hope is here.
If the holiday gatherings and trappings have you feeling less than Advent-y and the season has lost its awe and wonder, you may be experiencing what I call ‘Advent Burnout.’ And here’s the thing: it’s okay.
Advent gives you the opportunity to give up your failing attempts at holiday cheer and merriment. It gives you the opportunity to thank God for a season that understands loneliness, yearning, and longing that groans from the depth of your soul.
It’s okay to unravel in the season of Advent. To allow the thread of anticipation to weave its way through the burnout, to the belief that what was once empty will be filled, what is lost will be found, what is broken will be made whole.
Here are three ways to renew your sense of expectation in Advent when you’re just not feeling it:
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1. Focus on the Christmas Presence instead of Presents
Pope Benedict XVI addressed more than 4,000 people in 2012 about Advent with this statement: “Advent places before us the bright mystery of the coming of God's son, the great plan of God's goodness through which he desires to draw us to himself to let us live in full communion, joy, and peace with him."
Remember how you couldn’t sleep the night before Christmas as a child? The glow of the Christmas lights on the tree and the shiny wrapping paper danced behind your closed eyes. Who couldn’t wait to dive into the presents and feast on the delicious smells coming from the kitchen?
But then as you grew up, you began to trade the presence of Christmas for presents on your long shopping list.
Take some soul time and focus on your gift: the One who was laid in a manger who grew to be your Savior. Grab a pen and paper, maybe a journal and get quiet with God.
Ask Him what He wants to say to you. Ask him about the unfulfilled hopes that grip your heart.
Ask Him what He wants to say about the Gift He sent to you.
Ask Him about that wondrous love wrapped in the presence of Jesus.
2. Stop Doing and Be
November paves the way to “Christmas Walks” through downtown shopping centers, and calendars stacked with Holiday gatherings, work parties, Church activities, and even school concerts. Laced within all of the events are the obligations, to-do lists, and shopping.
This year, why not declare Advent as your season of being?
Clear the calendar, reduce the party load, and carve out time for you and God. Insist that this year Advent will be a period of intentional waiting; where your gaze is fixated on the empty manger pregnant with the anticipation of the coming King.
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3. Believe What is Lost Can be Found
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about when Jesus was a boy. At the age of 12, his parents lost him. In the book of Luke, chapter two ends with the story of going to Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover. I don’t know if it was because of the grand festivities or the caravan of company the family traveled with. Either way, Mary and Joseph lost their son.
They expected Jesus to be with their family and friends but he wasn’t with anyone. They traveled back to Jerusalem and found Jesus in the Temple after three days of panicked searching.
But then Jesus schools his parents with words, “Didn’t you know I needed to be in my father’s house?” Mary was particularly astonished by his words and where they found Jesus. She walked away changed.
Like Mary, each one of us needs to go back to the places where we left Jesus.
Did you leave him after disappointment this year? Did you lose joy because of a job loss? Did you lose hope after a broken relationship or unexpected health crisis? Whatever the cause, go back to the place where you lost Christ and bring Him back with you.
Don’t compare this year of Advent to last year or any other. Each will be different because of the differing seasons and experiences throughout the year. This includes how you responded to each situation and whether or not you trusted Jesus in it all. And if you didn’t—that’s okay. You know you can find him again.
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The Key to Renewing Your Sense of Advent
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
This passage reminds us to look within. His “increase in government” is within us as he governs our hearts, holds our hands, and guides our lives. But also within this passage we see the scope of Jesus’ purpose. We see the beginning and the end, because in the short span of 33 years, Jesus completes his mission for us on the cross.
The hope that was lost this season can be found. The joy that was lost this season can be found. The expectation of Advent can be renewed as we lay our shortcomings, hurts, and disappointments down in the waiting. As we get comfortable with our less than Advent-y selves, God will see it and honor it; as it creates a platform for him to heal and transform your heart.
Advent reminds us to listen for the message that God is speaking, even in the waiting.
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. Heather is an author and a former national award-winning journalist. Her work has also been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at heatherriggleman.com or connect with her on Instagram.
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