An Advent Reflection
by Abri Nelson
When I was a child, Advent was magical. Each year after Thanksgiving, my mother would transform our house with nativities, candles, and homemade wreaths. Christmas storybooks and stuffed animals would materialize, only available until January. She would also hang our Jesse Tree, a 1980s-era felt Christmas tree tapestry upon which my sister and I would hang 25 felt ornaments. Each represented a slice of what C.S. Lewis refers to as the “Great Story” in The Last Battle, a piece of the narrative of God’s work throughout history. Year after year, we spent December reading the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, and the prophets to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ.
Advent took on new meaning when I became an adult. The word literally means an arrival or a coming in Latin, referring to both the first and second comings of Christ. I recall a former priest at The Falls Church Anglican, Dean Miller, explaining Advent with an illustration from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
Advent means that Christ comes; He breaks into our hearts, our lives, and our stories and transforms them. Suddenly, the narrative shifts and we do not see the world in the same way. When Christ comes, when God’s actions are seen in the circumstances of our lives, we catch a glimpse of the way the world is supposed to be, the way it will be.
But Advent is also about the space in which we wait. As we would add ornaments to the Jesse tree, the shape of God’s purposes throughout history would become clearer … but that history was not clear to those in the midst of their stories. Think of Joseph in prison, of Abraham and Sarah without children, of Isaiah and Micah foretelling Messianic prophecies; they did not see the end of their stories while they were in them, nor could they see how God’s work in their lives would point to his Son, our redeemer.
And yet, this is what these stories do for us. The advent of Christ is not only told in the beginning of the gospels, but in every book of Scripture, in all the work of God throughout the Old Testament. We can see how God was present in the lives of His people, how He cared for them, met their needs, and transformed their lives for His purposes.
A quote from Henri Nouwen’s sermon “A Spirituality of Waiting” has always provided me comfort in my seasons of waiting:
“To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.”
Sometimes it is easy to read the stories of the saints and think, “Well, of course they trusted God; that’s why they’re saints.” But Joseph, Abraham, Sarah, David, Daniel, Esther … these were real people with real desires. As much as you do not know how Christ is going to break into your life, they did not know either. And yet He did, in ways more abundant than they could imagine or ask for.
I like Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14 because of the image of Christ moving into the neighborhood, coming to us where we are and making everything new. As this Advent comes to a close, I encourage you to ask God how He is weaving your own story into His narrative. Wherever you are in your waiting, He is molding you according to His love. May you know and trust Him this Advent season.
Abri Nelson works as a freelance writer and a high school journalism teacher for Arlington Public Schools. She has been attending The Falls Church Anglican with her family since 2006 and is currently leading an evening Bible study on the topic of engaging with God in waiting. Abri hopes to develop a written study for others on this topic in the future. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.