I’ve been thinking about advent the past couple days. I know I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. Right now is typically a time for reflections on thankfulness, but just the word thankfulness makes my heart close up tight and raise defenses and try to convince me that any amount of thankfulness must somehow mean that this hurt I feel isn’t warranted. And I’m struggling to get past that. So, I’m sidestepping it…or maybe just looking for a long way around to where I need to be.
Advent isn’t something I’ve given much attention to, ever. Honestly, until recent years, I only ever heard the word in reference to cutesy little calendars that sort of ostensibly recounted the days and hours leading up to the birth of Jesus, but really mostly served as an anticipation-builder for eager young hearts that could just barely wait to tear into the stacks of colorful packages crowded under the tree. But this year in particular, my heart needs to know that the not yet of this faith has purpose and value.
Because, in this moment, my temptation is to say that God is failing me. The reality of these days has been a dichotomous warring within me – a pushing back at His Word, His promises, His expectations because there’s this devastation that seems at odds with any thought that His goodness to me could possibly be true…but at the same time, there’s a desperate desire to find Him, to figure out how this all makes sense, to trust that His ways are higher and better and completely infallible. And every time I try to argue with Him that there’s no way I could possibly believe that He’s loving and sovereign in the midst of these days when He seems to be a silent observer to the anguishing of my heart, I can’t get past His Word that insists that His love and faithfulness are non-negotiables that I never get to reason away just because I don’t understand. It’s the age-old question of how a loving God could let bad things happen to us, and a sobering realization that it comes down to the choice to believe Him, or to count His Word, and ultimately faith itself, as unreliable.
So, I’ve found myself slowly pondering His coming…not the days and hours leading up to it, but the seemingly agonizingly long millennia between man’s first defiance of a holy God – followed so quickly by a promise of a Redeemer – and first coming of our Savior. And now, still, the waiting for fulfillment, while the earth groans and souls strive sometimes against imperfection, and sometimes against the call to perfection, all while longing for the not-yet so much so that it can be easy to forget that there’s no such thing as heaven on earth.
I’ve wondered why He made humanity wait for their Rescuer. Why did he leave longing hearts unsatisfied? Through the flood, and enslavement, and wilderness wandering, and a promised land, and great victories, and heart wanderings, and captivity, and brokenness, and restoration – He waited. But He didn’t only wait. It was a lesson plan, of sorts, this meandering road to the cross. It’s easy to see, with the hindsight we are afforded. It was necessary for mankind to see the impossibility of human ambition and human wisdom and human morality and human sincerity to fix the problem of sin. God was writing it across history – who we are and Who He is can never, ever meet through any effort we put forward.
It makes sense. It’s rational, calculated. It’s loving, maybe mostly in a big-picture sort of way.
And, eventually Jesus came. He bridged the unbridgeable gap and won salvation for our souls. But still we stand here, waiting for His coming. We have the promised redemption, so what is the waiting for, this time? Why doesn’t this life just cease the moment we believe? Or at least become easy? Among at least a few possible answers, I have to be able to see that a recognition of sin and its consequence is not the same as really knowing the Lord. If we could believe, and then never have to face the temptation of sin again, how would we ever know grace in its full measure…both to free us from sin’s grip, but also to unfailingly restore us when we fall time and time again? If we could believe, and then never face the loss of good things again, how would we ever be able to proclaim that He is truly enough? If we could believe, and then never have to love the unlovable or forgive the unforgivable, how would we ever be able to comprehend to any degree His love for us that compelled Him to the cross? If we could believe, and then never find circumstances frustrating, or confusing, or painful, how would we ever be able to realize that there is Truth that is never dependent on circumstantial proof?
One day, it’s possible we will have no more opportunity to learn of these facets of His character. There’s a depth of knowing that God allows us to pursue with Him, an intimacy unlike any other. It necessitates forsaking all else. Sacrificing, letting go, trusting only Him. Safety nets get pulled away. Heartstrings get cut. Ambitions lie in ruins. So that we can be found in Him. Nothing before or beneath or beside but Him. He holds us. He sustains us. He fulfills us. And we learn, in this world that tempts and tries, as He tarries and we look for Him to come again, that He is worth it all.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? —Mark 8:34-37
Or, in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”