I loved my Advent calendar when I was a kid. It was a lovely, whimsical outdoor scene with all sorts of interesting people, critters, and activities. I loved how the scene changed as Christmas grew closer. My brother’s was Santa’s workshop.
With each raised flap we knew Christmas was one day closer. Which meant we were one day closer to presents!
Our excitement grew. The day arrived! Stockings in the morning. Wait until Grandpa and Grandma arrive – with more presents – to start on the pile under the tree.
Even though we took turns, opening one brightly-wrapped package at a time, what we had longed for was soon over…
Though I knew that Advent was the time leading up to Christmas, I really didn’t know what Advent was.
What is Advent?
Unlike my childish Advent-calendar anticipation of Christmas presents, the Advent I’m learning about as an adult is meaningful.
Advent is the celebrated through the four Sundays before Christmas. It’s a time to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s coming to earth as a baby. It reminds us He came.
It reminds us He’s coming again.
Instead of giddiness, there is longing.
It’s not about me.
Years of Silence
God’s people waited for years. Hundreds of years. They waited for God to speak to them as He had in the past. They waited for Him to save them.
He had Promised.
Four hundred years is a long time to wait. Generations died without receiving the promise. They waited as they’d waited for deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
How many still hoped? How many thought Israel would remain slaves forever? How many were tempted to turn their back on the God who seemed to have turned His back on them? How many did?
Waiting is hard. Especially when it looks like things will never change.
It was the hopelessness of belief that things could never get better, that I was beyond help, beyond grace, that made suicide seem the reasonable response, the only good thing.
How can understanding Advent help us get through depression and anxiety in the holiday season?
Advent and Depression
The hopelessness of suicidal depression seems completely at odds with the holiday season. But I haven’t just suffered, I’ve survived.
What do bouts of depression and anxiety have in common with Advent? Waiting.
Knowing that the darkness has lifted before, steals some of its power. Even when I can’t believe it, truth exists; I have never been abandoned. Even if I can’t feel it, grace is a fact, and it holds me. Hopelessness cannot coexist with grace. I may believe there is no hope, but that doesn’t make it true. I can’t see the light, but it still shines; if I just hold on, I will see it again.
To survive is to wait.
The Themes of Advent
On the first Sunday of Advent, the first candle is lit. In most traditions it is the candle of Hope. We have hope because God Promised. Jesus came. He died. He rose again. He’s coming again.
The sun always rises. Spring always returns. God keeps His Promises.
Do I believe God’s Promises? If a promise has been fulfilled, I don’t need faith to believe it will come to pass. Do I believe He is who He has said He is?
If we have faith in God and His Promises, we always have hope.
We cannot save ourselves. From the beginning, God had a plan to save us from the wrong choice He knew we’d make in the Garden and would continue to make until time ends.
Our redemption required the incomprehensible sacrifice Jesus made to call us His own.
Life brings loss, big and small, to everyone. But in it and through it, God waits for us to understand He is all we truly need. Praise does not require a smile.
We don’t need to feel happy to have joy.
I can’t always control my brain or my circumstances. God doesn’t promise that life will be easy. In fact, the Bible is pretty blunt about the fact we will have trouble in this world. But God has overcome it.
Peace can reign in us despite the chaos of a fallen world.
Like the kid who goes snooping because he can’t wait for the surprise under the tree Christmas morning, we’re not good at waiting for what we want. We want stuff that makes us make us feel good, and we want it on our schedule. I wasn’t one of those snoopy kids, but I resent not getting what I think I need when I think I need it. Most years, I wanted Christmas to come, but I wanted what it would bring to be a surprise. I could wait happily because I knew Christmas would come. It was right there on the calendar. We were counting down the days in eager anticipation.
I struggle to believe God will follow through on making all things work out for my good as I love Him. I don’t always want to rest in an unimaginable Promise I’ll receive at an unknown time. I want things to be easier. Now.
There’s a powerlessness in waiting.
No one enjoys feeling powerless.
But when we’re brought to the end of our own strength we remember we are finite. We’re forced to admit that we need God.
It’s easy to lose hope when darkness threatens to swallow us whole. There are things I must do to give my brain its best chance and limit the negative impact on my loved ones. I have tools to reduce the severity of my crashes.
But I can’t fix the glitch in my brain. I can’t heal myself.
What is required of me is faithfulness in the waiting.
Because God is Who He says He is, hope exists whether I can feel it or not.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9, NASB
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