Written by Ashley Boaeuf, Interim Youth Director
I have always loved a good surprise!
You know the kind I’m talking about — the kind that no one sees coming, but one that has the power to turn a good day into a great day. The kind that catches you off guard and changes your course of direction or thinking.
Of course, seated right beside Surprise is her nearest relative — my sworn enemy: Anticipation.
I sometimes think of anticipation as a botched surprise, ushered in through subtle inclinations and void of that delightful, spur-of-the-moment type revelation. It’s a kind of off extended surprise that gives me just enough information to know that something is coming, but not quite enough to know what that is. The kind that keeps you in a state of waiting; longing. I hate anticipation.
This Sunday, the church will enter into a peculiar season — one that is chock full of all that anticipation that I dread so much. By it’s very definition, Advent is a season of waiting; a time where we pause to contemplate and reflect on the mystery that is the “now and the not yet”. In times like this, when the world feels more vitriolic and confusing than it ever has before, I can’t help but feel this great weight of impossible longing knowing that something is coming, but when?
Prior to Christ’s coming, God’s people were in an extended season that felt very much like . Kings and unjust rulers were laying claim to power using fear tactics, threats, and mass persecution. Israelites wandered in the wilderness, hungry, tired, and desperate. Prophets cried out in direct opposition to the false prophets who would deliver messages that the public wanted to hear: prophecies that asked very little of God’s people and enabled their complicity (see Jeremiah 28). Jesus’ own birth took place amidst displacement caused by a king’s orders to execute all infant males, for fear that he would lose control of his throne (see Matthew 2). The desire to see the words of the prophet Isaiah fulfilled were more desperate than ever. The world was in ruins at the hands of the kings and rulers.
What Israel needed was a new kind of king who could turn the monarchy on it’s head. What the world needed was a savior.
And in those most desperate days, they felt it hanging over them like a tangled string of burnt out light-bulbs: the not yet.
It felt dark and confusing; an anticipation so grueling that even brutal kings and rulers seemed more favorable to a God that would keep desperate people in waiting (see Exodus 16, Numbers 11, 1 Samuel 8:1-22). In our darkest hour, the last thing we want to do is wait for the light to come.
And yet, here we are in Advent, doing just that; sitting in the anticipation.
I would be lying to you if I told you that this season wasn’t difficult. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t absolutely terrifying to sit in this messy, uncomfortable, excruciatingly long period of waiting. But in those times where I feel most lost, I remember that she’s coming when I least expect her — Anticipation’s nearest relative — my dearest friend: Surprise.
And though I may not know what she’s doing, or what she’ll do when she shows up, I am comforted by what I’ve seen her do throughout the history of her people, Israel. In that, I am reminded of her promise that God never actually left God’s people to do that waiting alone. And as we light the Advent candles each week, signifying hope, peace, joy, and love, I will remember in this grueling anticipation that God was never truly absent; that Surprise was always there, waiting along with us. For even in the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).