This week began just the way most every week does-with the promise of mundane, assurance of impending messiness and the anticipation of the unknown. But if I am being honest, "anticipation" often feels like a bit of a stretch, if not a complete lie. Some times the unknown fills me with fear or dread. And sometimes the mundane, the messiness and the "tyranny of the urgent" completely overshadow thoughts of anticipating anything at all. Although this week began as many weeks before it, it also dawned a little differently this time because on Tuesday Advent began. And Advent is all about anticipation. Surely this week would be different. The unknown would not seem scary or intimidating or worrisome. The mundane and the messy would be glossed over by the bright, shiny hope that Advent brings. Yep, this week would be different. I could feel it.
But for some reason no matter how many evergreen boughs or shiny glass balls you hang, no matter how much glitz is lining shelves and mantles (and left to be vacuumed up off your living room floor), no matter how many pieces of decor say "joy" or "peace" or "hope", you just can't manufacture those feelings. While the world counts down the days till Christmas, I find myself feeling stuck. I see the days passing. I see each character finding its place on our Advent Calender. But nothing inside me changes.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe Advent (the 25 days leading up to Christmas) has often felt like a bit of a drag to you, or a bit of a gimmick, or maybe you smile but inside you are convinced this season is only something exciting for kids. Or for you the countdown feels all too real, but instead of the anticipation building with each day that goes by, the anxiety grows because in your mind this countdown looks less like a merry advent calender and more like a ticking bomb.
My wise and beautiful friend posted something the other day that resonated with me. She shared a photo of her daughter's bedazzled playdough Christmas tree. Underneath, her caption read "I want to be this tree. All sparkly and radiant and full of Advent expectancy and joy. But all I can do is hum "the WEARY world rejoices". The weary. Maybe I can just be weary this Advent. Be weary and wait, and maybe, like the tired shepherds, I will be amazed".
Her words resonated so deeply with my soul. I had just cried to Peter the night before that I am weary. I had just been journaling about Advent being a season of waiting, then the next day my online bible study group had been discussing the same thing. Maybe God is trying to teach me something this Advent, and it has less to do with manufactured joy & peace & hope, and more to do with waiting. Waiting well.
If I am being honest, (which let's admit I often am here-to a fault), I feel like I have been stuck, playing the waiting game for.freakin'.ever. Forever. The wait for Christmas, the wait for the fulfilled promise, doesn't seem all that appealing to me right now. But God is nudging me in this waiting. He is showing me that the wait is not in vain. And this Advent season I relate to the Israelites in their wait for the fulfillment of the promised Savior.
Maybe you are like me, in a period of waiting. Waiting on God to fulfill his promises. Waiting on a new living situation. Waiting on a family member to finally "get it". Waiting on a life change. Waiting on a change in your financial situation. Waiting on a baby. Waiting on healing. Waiting for it to finally be your turn. Waiting for the next, inevitable wave of grief. Waiting on answered prayer. Waiting for the next big thing to come in and break up the mundane. Waiting on the headlights of your husband's car to pull in the driveway at the end of the work day. Waiting on feelings to follow actions. Waiting on joy. Waiting on peace. Waiting on hope.
Maybe you are like me and my friend. You are weary. You can relate to the shepherds. Every bone in your body aches with grief & doubt & foiled efforts & guilt. Crushed. Down-trodden. Cut-off. "Hope" makes you laugh-"maybe for someone else". "Hope" makes you cry-hot, bitter, tears spilling out of the depths of heartache and the ruts of disappointment etched crudely in your soul. Let me share something with you that I read the other day which made my weary, waiting soul begin to rejoice.
"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse
and a branch from its roots shall bear fruit." Isaiah 11:1 (ESV)
I had heard this verse before, almost every Christmas, I am sure. But this year, I found it striking a new chord within me. Jesse's family was being disciplined, like a tree cut off at the stump. Yet a shoot was promised. Life from death. The unfurling of tender hope from the weariness. I am gaining more appreciation for prophetic passages of scripture because they point to what it coming, but what is not (or at the time was not) yet here. They are words from the middle of waiting. And they offer hope for those of us caught up in the wait.
I can imagine that when people heard this prophetic promise it filled them with a glimmer of hope. I bet in their weariness they were too exhausted or too hesitant to leap with joy. But perhaps in their weariness there was enough of a flicker of hope at hearing this promise that they could choose to rejoice.
I am learning that you can be weary and still rejoice. You can be downtrodden and still steadfast. You can be disappointed and still full of hope. And unlike the people that Isaiah was speaking to, we can see the shoot. We live in a "post-shoot" world. So, this Advent, although I may be weary, although I can relate to the cut-off stump of Jesse, although I find myself constantly playing the waiting game, I will rejoice in the hope of the shoot-the new life and the promised fruit. And I will wait well.