It’s the first day of the Advent season – a time for anticipated waiting. I wrote something that is several years old now, but pertinent still today. I’ll set the scene…
Our high school youth group was having a night about Advent, called ‘Hopeful Anticipation’. The room was decorated for Christmas and we had a fun night planned. We had about 50 beautifully wrapped presents under the tree of all shapes and sizes, which, of course, caught the teens’ attention right off the bat. And we, of course, hyped the gifts up as much as possible, telling them there was a gift for each of them but that they would have to wait until the end of the night before they could have it. As the night came to an end we let them each, one by one, personally pick out the gift they wanted for themselves. They were encouraged to take their time and to even pick the gifts up and give them a shake so they could make sure to get just the one they wanted. They were told to wait until everyone had their gift and had found their seat on the carpet before opening their presents. The anticipation was growing, and as they were finally allowed to open their gifts, some of them could soon tell why their packages were so heavy. They’d been duped. Bags of sand…and a letter…what?! It read:
Not what you expected? That’s life sometimes, isn’t it?
Sometimes we get so caught up with the things that we are expecting or hoping for that when setbacks or disappointments occur, we let that affect everything – our moods, our behaviors, our attitudes, our thoughts, our decisions; our lives. Sometimes we’re so focused on our path in life that we put blinders up that we don’t even realize are there. Think about it…you’ve got it all planned out, right? You picture where you want to go to college, moving out of your parents’ house, the career you want to have, when you’re going to get married, maybe even who you’re going to marry, how many kids you’re going to have, where you’re going to live, the car you’ll drive, etc., etc., etc. What if, for whatever reason, those things don’t happen? Or what if your life does seem to go according to plan but then something happens suddenly along the way that changes the course of how you had planned your life to go. For you athletes, what if you get injured later, ruining your hopes for that college sports career? Or for you girls, what if you find out you can’t have children later on in life and all you’ve ever wanted was to be a wife and a mother? There are things that will happen to us in life that we cannot avoid. A fire or a natural disaster could happen tomorrow, completely devastating our homes and the things inside that we treasure so much. A disease, or a car accident could take our loved ones away from us next week. These could all happen within a blink of an eye and it would be horrible. And as you get older, you’ll see these things more and more. But guess what? Even if those things were to happen to you, as bad as they all would be – it’s not the end of the world. And this isn’t to cause some paranoia about bad things that could happen in your life. This is to help keep things in perspective and to hopefully serve as a reminder that when bad things do happen, good things can come from them. We have to remember that there is always someone else in control. And sometimes, amid the emotions that come with our setbacks or disappointments, it’s hard to remember that. The hurt and the pain that we feel can be crippling at times. However, it is during those times that God is able to do some of His best work in us. No matter how hard or long the struggle or waiting period is. It is just a temporary trial and it is preparing us for something far greater. What matters most is what you do during these trials. Just as the Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,
“Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.”
As hard as it might be, we should find peace in knowing that God will never give us more than we can handle and that He is in control. We should each strive to get to a point in our lives where, regardless of what comes our way, our path is towards Heaven and while things will always happen to try to distract us from that, we must remain focused on that goal. There are so many examples and words which we should live by that are found all throughout scripture. To paraphrase: in Psalms 27:14, God will strengthen our hearts during the difficult times; we just have to have courage in waiting on Him. In Psalms 62:5, our expectations should come from Him. In Isaiah 40:31, God will renew our strength if we wait on Him; as long as it takes, and we won’t grow weary, nor will we faint. There’s a recurring theme here, and countless other verses could be listed but you get the point.
This Life Night was called “Hopeful Anticipation”, and we should be hopeful about anticipating all that God has in store for us; now and in the future. He is our true hope and He does not disappoint. Take some time to honestly think about the life you’re living. Think about the plans you have for yourself and what you want out of life. Do you think your wants and desires are in line with what God wants for you? Have you ever thought to even ask Him? What if you took your goals and your plans to Him and sincerely told Him what you wanted out of life? And what if, by living a virtuous life and remaining faithful to Him and His commandments, your plan and His plan ended up being the same? Think about it – God wants you to be happy! Take your plans to Him, ask that they be according to His will, ask for His help in achieving your goals. And then…ask for patience during the difficult periods of frustration when things don’t happen within the timeframe you want or how you want them to.
Christmas is coming, and this empty present is to serve as a reminder that Christmas isn’t about the material presents we receive, but about His presence in our lives and in our world. Advent is a time for us to truly prepare for His coming. Not just the celebrating of His birth, but for His real second coming. And it may not happen this December 25th, and it may not happen 10 years from now either – but when it does we need to be ready. We need to live our lives in a way that if it were to happen tomorrow, or if we were to die tomorrow, we’ll be able to enjoy an eternity with Him in Heaven.
So that was the letter…and while looking around the room we could tell that some were in thought, while others were still getting over the fact that they had been tricked and that they really weren’t getting a present. Fortunately for them, we had a Christmas party the following Sunday and they would have fun opening their white elephant presents…and after seeing some of those presents I’m sure a few of them would have preferred another letter.
Advent is obviously about preparing for Christmas, but I like to think that it can teach us a lot about waiting in general, and patience. This is hard for us sometimes, myself included. We’ve grown accustomed to ‘immediately’, ‘right away’ and the ‘here and now’. We expect answers and want things when we want them…especially answers from God. But that’s not how God works. There’s usually a lesson involved somewhere, which includes a period of waiting…and usually these times can be amazing opportunities for personal growth. God is trying to teach each of us something this advent season, we just have to be willing to listen and to wait on His perfect timing.
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