We have a very simple Advent routine around here. We light the candles in our advent wreath, tell a story, sing a song, and blow out the candles. Fifteen minutes of getting ready, of entering the mystery of Christmas, of awakening our longings for all to be made right. That’s it.
As I wrote yesterday, I’ve never been so ready for Advent as I was this year. With my father dying last month, I am acutely aware of how broken things are and how much this world is groaning for redemption. The last time I felt this way was after Scott and Sarah died.
At that time, as I was exploring different explanations of death and loss, I began reading the Bible. Within a few months of beginning that endeavor, I came across the story of Lazarus in the book of John.
The story begins when Jesus learned that his friend Lazarus was dying in Bethany. Instead of going to Lazarus to heal him, though, he stayed put for two days, making a cryptic remark about Lazarus’ death being for God’s glory. Then after Lazarus died, Jesus headed to Bethany.
Oh no, I thought as I read. He didn’t let Lazarus die only to try to make it all better with some nonsense about God’s purposes, did he? Or even worse to tell poor Mary and Martha that they should let Lazarus ‘continue peacefully on his journey’ as the psychic had told me.
When Lazarus’ sister Mary came out to meet Jesus, he saw her weeping, and saw the friends who had come with her also weeping and, “He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”
Deeply moved. Greatly disturbed. These words struck a chord. I felt them vibrating against my skin.
Next, Jesus asked where they had laid Lazarus. When the mourners asked Him to come and see for himself, Jesus wept. When He arrived at the tomb, he was again “greatly disturbed.”
The Greek root of the word translated as disturbed means “to snort with anger.” I loved that image. Jesus so angry he was snorting. Some translations say he was groaning. Snorting, groaning, weeping. This is not the Sunday school Jesus who is gentle, WASPy, and canoodling a lamb.
That was it. I was in love. Jesus hated death too. He loved Lazarus and he was snortin’ mad about him dying. I still wasn’t sure about whether I believed he was the Son of God or that he had risen from the dead. But I was sure that I loved him.
Many years later, I still do. And I long for him to return, full of righteous hatred of all that is broken and ill, ready to set things aright. Which is why I love Advent.
Each night after we read a story about preparing our hearts for the “king that was not like the king anyone was expecting,” we march around the house singing, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the king.” The second verse says, “No more crying there. We are going to see the king.” And the third verse says, “No more dying there. We are going to see the king.”
It’s not that longing for Jesus during Advent takes the sting out of death. It’s that looking toward Jesus exposes the ugliness of death in all it’s horror. And then it fixes our eyes on the beauty that will one day defeat it. That’s the hope of Advent, and the promise of Christmas.
Soon and very soon.