“I can’t wait for Christmas!!” You’ve heard that phrase before. Chances are, you even said that phrase before, maybe when you were a kid. The grown-up response to a child’s can’t-wait eagerness, is often something like, “Of course you can. Now be patient.”
Of course. We can wait. Time cannot be hurried. And, true, patience is a virtue which we all must cultivate.
But there’s something about that eager anticipation — the can’t-wait mentality that looks forward to Christmas. This restless waiting is much like the longing that the ancient Israelites experienced as they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Scripture is full of the anticipation of Christ’s coming. Prophets proclaimed it. Songs announced it. Sacrifices foreshadowed it. Types resembled it. Sin required it. God promised it.
And then it happened: God came to earth, fulfilling prophecies and responding to the sighs, groans, tears, and cries of the earth since the fall.
When our family first started celebrating Advent, we would light another candle every night, read the appropriate Scripture, pray, and sing. We sang the same song:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Each of the five stanzas begins with the plea, “O come.” Each ends with the refrain, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come.”
Our waiting is different. We still have anticipation, but it is rooted in the reality of Christ’s having come, and the expectation of his coming again. We live in the already/not-yet anticipation, which is joy-filled and motivating.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
There’s longing. There’s antipication. Yet at the same time, there’s joy.
When a child says, “I can’t wait until Christmas!” we can understand their eagerness. While our anticipation may reflect a different sentiment, we can acknowledge that feeling, and respond by saying “me too,” instead of “be patient.”
Rejoice! Emmanuel has come!