Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power. –Robert Webber, Ancient Future Time

It’s the time of year when we enter into the season of Advent, which comes from the Latin adventus, meaning arrival or coming. Advent is traditionally a time when people slow down and take time to celebrate and prepare for Jesus’ birth at Christmas time. Many religious traditions choose not to sing songs of Christ’s birth until Christmas Day since Advent is not a time of joy, but of longing for the coming of the Savior.

To capture the essence of Advent is to realize it is about much more than getting ready to celebrate Christ’s birth. The Scriptures that we remember at this time (like in Isaiah 7 and 9) and the characters and context of the story reveal some huge themes. Israel was not just looking for the birth of a baby, but for the very redemption of their nation, people, and status.  They wanted a fresh display of God’s power.

Considering the longing and expectation that the people of Israel felt makes me consider those things on a bigger scale. The main themes of Israel’s longing (the coming of a king to (re)establish the kingdom and redeem his people) is not something we can get away from today. We look toward the second coming. The desire to see and experience God in a new way is something that many desire. Yet, just as most of the Israelites missed the first coming because of complacency, sin, and no longer expecting it, many of us miss God working around us.

What is it about expectation that is so important? What is it about longing for something that is so captivating? It’s been said that the having is not nearly as pleasing as the wanting. Why is it that often the longer we have to wait, the more the desire diminishes?

Consider biblical examples of expectation where people waited and persevered for something great, even when it seemed it might never come. Simeon waited for years serving in the temple to see the Christ child as God promised. The disciples waited in the Upper Room for the promised Holy Spirit.

The theme of expectation has really struck me lately because many Christians don’t expect much in life anymore, even though God has promised some awesome stuff. Jesus told His disciples that where two or three are gathered in His name, that He would be there, too. He told the disciples before He ascended to heaven that He would never leave them.

Do we enter into a time of worship with the expectation that God will reveal and show Himself to us? When we gather with others who have the Holy Spirit, do we expect it to be special, or just another way we could spend our time that is little different than going to Rotary Club? What would happen if we anticipated God showing Himself in our midst corporately because we had already experienced His presence during the week?

Israel’s longing for God’s presence was because they felt He was far away. The very activity, worship, that was designed to renew them each time they did it had become a dead ritual. Yet when God did show up, the Israelites usually weren’t really ready to hear or obey. Expectation involves obedience. Expectation involves waiting, but also looking forward to and anticipating His arrival. When God breaks in, we should be prepared, as Mary was, to do what God asks us to do.

During this Advent season and beyond, may we come with an expectation to encounter God. May we also leave with a confident expectation that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. May we not miss out because we don’t understand and haven’t cared for sin in our lives.

All honor to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is by his boundless mercy that God has given us the privilege of being born again. Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3 NLT)