Advent is to Christmas, as Lent is to Easter. I think we more fully grasp the joyous hope of the gospel (which is what Christmas and Easter are about) when we observe these seasons of waiting and penitence. They are opportunities for us to confess our ongoing need for a Saviour, to keep our faith in Him fresh and authentic.

We’ve been observing Advent at Bethel ever since Nick came on board to pastor us. For three Sundays before Christmas, the worship service begins with the first verse of this familar Advent hymn:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
In our need, we beg you to come, O God-who-promises-to-be-with-us;
And ransom captive Israel
Come and free us (though we have no idea how much this will cost You) from those things that weigh us down from living the life You want us to live;
That mourns in lonely exile here
We are alone and helpless, cut off from a purposeful life; we cannot and do not see beyond our grief and despair
Until the Son of God appear.
Until we are touched by your Son, by His saving life and presence, by the example He set for us of how You want us to live.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
So rejoice! And take heart in the hope that our God is coming soon, to live up to His name, to be with us;
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
He is coming to our rescue.

The italicized commentary is mine. I hadn’t thought about what the words were really saying until recently, when I started wondering things like: “Who is Israel? What are the things holding me captive? What am I exiled from? How do I need to be rescued? etc.” The exercise of paraphrasing this verse helps me to think of the ways that I am needing a Saviour these days, of how and what I need to be redeemed from.

And to be sure, there is plenty for God to work with (and when you substitute “I” with “we,” it’s even more overwhelming). In the meantime, all I can do is count on His promise and wait for Him to show up.