We’ve been lighting candles every December since the boys were the size of baby Jack. Of course this little cousin with his white blond hair and wide twinkly eyes is really not a baby anymore. He’s already two years old with another sibling on the way. Just about the age Nils must have been at the time of my favorite Advent photo shoot back in the day. I can almost feel those pudgy little fingers and kissable cheeks just remembering.
Every year since then we’ve been lighting candles each Sunday from the end of November until Christmas Eve. We’d go youngest to oldest as soon as each boy was brave enough to hold the match – which is why yesterday Nils was the one making sure we got it right when we lit the first candle.
It was my friend Barb from church who inspired me to expand our Advent table this year. I think I’ll invite some friends to join us. I’d told Kyle of my plans a week or so before. It seemed like a fun idea at the time. Each Sunday we could extend the invitation to another family for dessert and candle-lighting. But then the first Advent weekend approached right on the heels of Thanksgiving, and every day was a party straight through Saturday night. And Sunday came and the boys all had homework. Group projects, and our house just blocks from school is always the best location.
So there we were circling up for our Advent kickoff with the DeMars family and us and a handful of extra teens, all drawn by the aroma of hot cider and cherry-crisp, willing to listen to a Bible reading if it meant a plate of warm dessert. And I’d already been fretting all week about how to best share my favorite tradition without making it awkward, and I’m telling you right now this particular gathering had ALL the makings of awkward. Which is why later when Nils commented on how it turned out so much better than he’d expected – I was in full agreement.
Advent means coming, I explained just before Miranda read out loud from Isaiah in front of all of those boys, and little Lily carefully lit the first candle. We remember Christmas and Jesus’ first coming, and we remember, too, that He’s coming again.
It hits me different this year. We’re waiting for Jesus to come again.
I think back to a time last summer, driving home from soccer. There was rain in the distance and the sun setting on clouds; the sky was a wonder and it made me think of His coming. And again on a road trip, just Kyle and me, coming back from Colorado. We drove through a downpour, short but intense, and the whole time this song was playing right there in our car. Even so come, Lord Jesus come. The same song played just a few days later as I drove to church for a funeral. And each time I felt this ache of longing. Lord Jesus come.
These days are such a mix of happy and broken, and we’re a little bit fragile. This world could use some fixing, and I know my own longing for Jesus is found in this.
I had a houseful of family on Saturday for a post-Thanksgiving gathering – my sister and two brothers and all of our kids, plus Grandma and Grandpa. It had been a whole year since I’d seen Micah’s family – baby Jack and his two sweet sisters, and a brother who’s grown into a little man. I pulled out buckets of toys from when my own boys were little, farm animals and tractors, and knights riding horses. The tweens played pool, and later all of us gathered by a candle-lit fireplace for the biggest-ever round of the Name Game. But even here with so much sweetness and laughter we could feel the ache. One brother, missing. Broken and lost. Needing Jesus.
This is the truth of where Advent meets us. The sweet longing of children waiting for Christmas, and grown-ups who long for what’s still to come. Nothing missing, nothing broken. Exactly three years ago I heard those words describing shalom in an Advent message and it changed our lives. We’ve come a long way since then.
This morning I sat at my window by lamplight listening to thunder and rain more like summer than Christmas, my Advent reading again from Isaiah.* Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…” And I think of a song.
All of creation
All of the earth
Make straight a highway
A path for the Lord
Jesus is coming soon…