Advent means "arrival", but I've always thought it's not Jesus' coming (or coming again) so much as the anticipation, the waiting, the hoping and praying of the process. When I was tiny, I had a glitter-encrusted Advent calendar that we used year after year, every year leaving more tiny sparkly flecks behind until it was only moderately-glittery. Unlike the daily gifts or Elves on the Shelf of so many friends' kids (as evidenced by FB), I remember tiny cardboard doors behind which, in miniscule typeface, was an abbreviation of a scripture reference. Waiting for Christmas, therefore, was a time of Messianic prophecy1. December 1, every year, was Isaiah 9:2. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 1 This was reinforced by Pastor Al's longest-running sermon series, the annual Advent foray into Messianic prophecy. He started in Genesis back in the 1970s, with the founding of CPC, and whatever weeks-long, months-long, years-long series he was on in November (Names of God! Ephesians for everyone!), it was suspended until January.
Isaiah didn't know there would be 400 years of silence.
Good thing God's got things covered.
Week Four: Can It Be?
The fourth Sunday of Advent
This summer, my family and I spent a wonderful week vacationing in Massachusetts. Our main destination was Plimouth Plantation, a recreation of the village (near modern-day Plymouth) where the historical first Thanksgiving is said to have taken place, and the Mayflower II, a full-size, seaworthy replica of the original Pilgrim ship, is docked. My six-year-old son studied the Pilgrims in his kindergarten class and heard about this fascinating place. His excitement convinced us this would make a great place to visit. The village consists of a series of weather-worn wooden buildings and fenced-in areas where historical breeds of livestock and heirloom crop varieties grow. Throughout the village, costumed actors go about their daily lives, playing characters from 1627 and assuming the language and customs common to these early European settlers.
We all were fascinated by the details of the colonists’ difficult life: Each family, even a family with 15 children, lived in a single room dwelling of about 800-square-feet, which was seemingly constantly covered in dirt. Two hours were spent every day grinding corn with a wooden mortar and pestle to come up with enough flour to make a loaf of bread. Pilgrim children did not attend school (which my children were interested to learn), because they were working in the fields all day as soon as they physically were able (which my children were strangely less interested to learn).
This new life followed a grueling two-month trip living below deck in a dank, small single room which was semi-sealed to keep out ocean water and, consequently, light and fresh air. During the first winter, more than half of the 102 settlers died due to weakened immune systems. Over and over, I was struck with the difficulty of life in the new land, and left with a question: “Who does something like this?!?”
My answer came from one of the actors, an older colonist who invited us all into the Meeting House—a nondescript wooden structure which was used primarily for worship services. Once assembled, he began by teaching us, by rote, to sing: “Guide me, O though great Jehovah!” After our first attempt, he stopped us abruptly, yelling: “the Lord says we are to make a joyful noise! Not a ‘polite noise’ and not a ‘pretty noise.’ We make a ‘joyful noise’ because we are a people of joy, and we are a people of joy because we are a people of faith. The joy in our faith is what brought us here, and it is what sustains us through these trials.”
My mental picture of these people, who had undergone such difficulty in their new lives, was missing one vital part of their reality: joy. I had not considered they could experience so much real, life-affirming joy. At that moment, I understood that, as fellow-followers of Jesus, they too knew God’s faithfulness and love. They were able to go in faith, knowing that while they were in the darkness, the light of Jesus was coming. They knew, as Jesus taught us, greatness lies on the other side of suffering. It is my prayer that, in this Advent season, we may all know the joy of God’s love in our lives. In the words of the psalmist: Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming!
— Timothy Dixon, DMA
professor of music
Psalm 96; Isaiah 52:7-10; Luke 1:57-80
source: Messiah College Advent devotional book 2014
TL;DR: “The Lord says we are to make a joyful noise! Not a ‘polite noise’ and not a ‘pretty noise.’ We make a ‘joyful noise’ because we are a people of joy, and we are a people of joy because we are a people of faith. The joy in our faith is what brought us here, and it is what sustains us through these trials.”