Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated, That she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
For as long as I can remember, Advent has been for me a time of great personal loneliness and deep spiritual restoration. I think the reason is because I have learned to view Advent through the lens of my own restless heart. I freely admit that finding contentment and satisfaction has always been a struggle for me. I further admit that my personal human condition has caused a great deal of distress in the lives of my family and friends. Transformation is a painful process that leaves many casualties in its wake; but it is certainly a necessary part of what it means to belong to Christ. Advent is a deep reminder of how God has spoken into our lives through the incarnation.
If we are to gain any meaning from the Season of Advent, we must come to terms with the fact that we are restless sojourners, traveling a singular path that each person must walk in his or her own way. We need to embrace our aloneness in order to take hold of the powerful message of Advent: that God has come to our world as one of us to bring comfort, forgiveness, and peace; that the poverty of the Nativity leads to the nakedness of the cross; and that the Savior who faced separation from the Father longs to manifest His presence in our solitude. Only then can we experience the joy of restoration that Advent brings.
Double Punishment, Singular Joy
The beautiful words from Isaiah were spoken to a people made weary by their sin, wayward children who were to be transformed in the fires of suffering and captivity in order to experience the incomprehensible joy of rebirth. It seems odd that comfort should be linked with punishment; yet this is the message of the prophecy. There is more joy in the ending of hostilities rather than there is bitterness for the years spent under the heavy hand of the Lord. The time of penance has past. The voice of God has turned from judge to tender Father. The days of trial are over. The Messiah has entered the world and salvation is at hand!
God uses the time of Advent to remind us that our lives are an ongoing journey of transformation – from sin to salvation and from tribulation to triumph. Our sufferings, our struggles, and our lonely searching for peace find their answer in the ever-unfolding work that is the coming of Christ. Jesus arrived on the earth as a helpless baby so that He could share His life with ours. He walked the same roads, suffered the same temptations, and experienced the same joys as all humanity so that He could overcome it all and rescue us from the slavery of sin. Our suffering finds meaning in the cross He endured for our sake. As we work through our sufferings we are renewed in our character and driven into the arms of Hope:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
The Wonder of Discovery
Advent is a time of self-discovery, where our journey moves from faith to faith, through trials to the victory, and from sorrow to the joy that is ours in Christ’s coming into our hearts at Christmas and in our daily lives. The rest of the reading from Isaiah goes on to talk about the voice calling, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!" (Isaiah 40:3) The rough road shall be smoothed over and the burden made easy and light. The glory of God will be revealed and our fragile lives will be forever transformed. We are like the flowers that fade, like the grass that is here today and tomorrow is burned in the fire. And yet, in Jesus, we are given eternal life. Our meaningless, dead, sin-filled existence is transformed by the cross and given new birth in Christ. As we wait for Christmas, we are comforted by the hope that the baby brings by his humble entry into the world. As we look forward to His Second Coming, where every tear shall be wiped away, where every knee will bow before the throne of heaven, we become bathed in the light of hope that shines so clearly upon our lives. As we meditate on the story of the Bible through the lens of Advent, we see that every page points to the coming of the Messiah and the victory that He brings.
In the End, Peace…
Though the time of waiting in the dark days can be painful and lonely, the message of Advent brings us joy and peace. All our restless wandering through this life gives way to a purposeful walk centered on the Word made flesh who left the realms of heaven to pitch His tent among us. I know that I can continue to travel the road to heaven because my Lord and Savior travels with me. Therefore I embrace this time and take in its wonderful lessons. My solitude becomes the empty womb ready to receive the new life that is mine by the miracle of Christmas. My sorrow becomes the power that breaks the shell of my hardened heart, so that I may surrender to One who entered this world to take away my sin. My restless heart beats with the anticipation of the days of Christmas to come and I ache within for the coming of the Lord on that final day when together we will experience the perpetual rebirth of the resurrection. That is peace indeed!
No matter where you are on this Advent journey, through the incarnation of Christ God offers us comfort, restoration, and new life. Our time of turning back brings us to the place where we may receive the blessings that Christmas brings. Rejoice in that hope as you meditate on the story of the birth of Jesus today! Meditate on the generosity of Christ and how His perfect, complete, and total surrender to His Father has gained for us the comfort and peace of eternal life. Let that truth penetrate your mind and heart as you wait for Christmas to come!