Published in Connections Magazine (November/December 2013)
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faith and family
by Marcus J. Carlson
When I think about Advent, three key terms come to mind as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child: waiting, expectation and anticipation. It is certainly a season of preparation. As a church and a culture, we are distracted by earthly preparations such as shopping, decorating, packing and wrapping instead of the kingdom preparation. Our goal should be preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s only begotten Son. He came to earth to point us to God, show us life, save us and guide us to the abundant life God desires for each of us.
Advent is a season of waiting. As a father of two children, I think of how they eagerly wait for Christmas morning. I also remember the waiting my wife, Jessica, and I experienced during her pregnancies. I can only imagine Mary and Joseph’s experience.
As Advent leads up to Christmas, it is also a season of expectation, knowing Christmas will come whether we are ready or not. There are certain aspects of the Advent season leading up to Christmas we can expect with great consistency, and hopefully our expectation is characterized by joy.
Advent is also to be a season of anticipation—not only anticipating the Christ child, but also reminding us that we can and should anticipate the coming of God into our lives each day. When it comes to our lives, our churches and our families, I think we have failed and continue to fail when it comes to anticipation. Our failure to anticipate is a theological and spiritual issue. As our culture grows more cynical, I have found that the church has modeled our culture in this way and many others. We often anticipate the worst in our lives, our families, our churches and the world.
A colleague and good friend who used to be my supervisor once challenged my own cynical mindset in telling me I should “always assume a yes.” In other words, always assume the best in people and the best in situations. Assume a positive posture and response. At first this idea seemed a bit fluffy and overly optimistic, but in time I have found it has been extremely helpful in my life. It has changed how I see people and situations without blinding me to challenges and difficult realities. It has changed my attitude when responding to different people and situations. It also has caused me to be more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The challenge is that we often fail to anticipate God’s work in our lives and relationships. We fail to assume a yes with one another, but also with God. We fail to remember the power of God’s grace as well as God’s miraculous redeeming power. In this way, we fail to be an Advent people. In Advent and Christmas we remember and celebrate the coming of God’s only Son to earth, the coming of a King and Savior in the form of a humble and innocent baby, born in controversy and in the midst of livestock. Simply put, we forget Emmanuel, God with us.
One of the great miracles of Christmas is that God came to earth to be with the people He created out of love. God is still with us, and Advent and Christmas are meant to remind us of the great power of Christ coming to earth. We fail to anticipate Christ coming into the world, not just in this season, but also in every season of life. God is with us. God comes to us. We can and should anticipate the work of God in our lives and in the world. It is already here and already happening.
If we can anticipate that Christ is with us—assuming a “yes” knowing that God is for us and wants to redeem all things— then I suspect our own relationship with God, our families, our churches and the world may begin to look differently to us. Instead of assuming the worst, we can assume Christ will redeem us. At the very least we should have our hearts and minds focused on Christ instead of on the circumstances that surround us.
In the end, our anticipation is not a matter of hope. It is a matter of trust. It is knowing that the essence of faith is trust. We can and should trust the God of the universe, anticipating His coming to us in all seasons and circumstances. As we think about what it means to model a godly life and faith to our children, we cannot possibly do so without the help of Christ and without anticipating that God is with us and will be with our children.
One of the ways my wife and I teach and model this to our children is found in a simple practice when we have dinner together as a family. This practice has become so much a part of our lives that our kids ask to do it when we have company, when we are eating out or even when we eat a fast food meal in the car while traveling. What is that practice? At dinner we engage in a time of sharing of our highs, our lows and our holies.
We share the high part of our day, the best thing that happened. We share a low part of our day, if we had one, a moment or experience that was challenging or frustrating. We then finish by sharing a holy moment, a moment where we saw or thought about God. This practice has taught each of us the discipline of looking for God in our everyday lives and anticipating that God is with us.
Some very simple yet profound moments have been shared by our 6 and 8 year old children as we bring our holy moments to the table. One night our daughter shared that her holy was meeting a friend in a wheelchair because she knew that even though that person was in the wheelchair, God was with them. Our son once shared that his holy moment was when a friend insulted him during a football game at
recess; he reminded each of us that even though it hurt his feelings, he knew that God was with him. In each of these cases, our children’s perspective on life, relationships and God was altered by simply forming the habit of looking for God, of anticipating that Christ has come and continues to come to them in the most simple and most profound moments of life.
The gift of Christmas is that we can anticipate that God is with us and desires to bring His life, grace, mercy, forgiveness and redemption to us over and over again. Advent and Christmas are a time of anticipating Jesus Christ born in a manger so that we might be saved. This Christ Child came to save, but also came to demonstrate the love of God. He seeks to be a part of our lives and to redeem each and every moment, experience and relationship we have.
Anticipate, for Emmanuel, God is with us!
Marcus J. Carlson
is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), currently serving at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He is a spiritual director, professor, speaker, writer and consultant, with 15+ years experience in youth and family ministry. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.