I always loved chocolate advent calendars as a kid (and still do). These have a little door to open with chocolate or candy inside, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. Some might criticize this as a commercial side of Christmas, but I think it teaches anticipation, which is a central theme in the Christmas story.
Anticipation is one way to describe the period after the Old Testament while the Jews waited for a new revelation from God. Anticipation might not even be a strong enough word, considering this was about 400 years. Longing, yearning, desperation, doubt: these round out the feeling of God’s people as they had to accept centuries of silence with no prophecies or prophets and no new scriptures.
In this long period of waiting, the Jews learned two sides of anticipation: hope and patience. Hope fixes our eyes on a better future; patience strengthens us in the present until we get there.
The Jews clung to the hope that their fortunes would be reversed. After the destruction of the temple and the exile to Babylon, the words of the prophet Zechariah were especially comforting. His bold visions told of the restoration and prosperity of Jerusalem; of the Lord Himself defending them against Satan’s accusations and of the coming Messiah who would save His people and reign over all the earth.
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation” Zechariah 9:9
Although these words offered great hope, the Jews gradually realised that they would have to be patient. The bright promises would wane and turn into years, decades and centuries. Another prophet, Zephaniah, had this message: “’Therefore wait for me,’ declares the Lord” (3:8). Many generations of God’s people had to live in this tension of anticipation: being emboldened by the hope of things to come, but sobered by the need to be patient and trust in His timing.
Where are you in this balance of hope and patience this Christmas? What is a need or prayer of yours in this holiday season? Anchor your hopes in the sureness of scripture, which shows us a good God who fulfills His promises.
Is there some area that you need to learn patience in? This is the other side of anticipation, and is one of the hardest lessons to learn, but remember that when you feel you don’t have the patience to wait any longer, the Holy Spirit is there praying for you.
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we await for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8: 24-26