As a kid our Christmas routine was almost set in stone. We would wake up on Christmas morning at our house in Fayetteville, North Carolina, open presents for a couple hours, and then it was time to get in the car to make our way to Chattanooga, Tennessee where one set of my grandparents and great grandparents lived.
Asheville, North Carolina was just about half-way to Chattanooga from Fayetteville. We would stop there and spend the night in a motel. It was always extremely exciting because we got to eat at Waffle House for dinner, Hardee’s or McDonald’s for breakfast, and of course we got to stay in a motel. The next morning we would wake up, get in the car, and drive the rest of the way to Chattanooga.
It was almost exactly 9 hours door to door from our house to Chattanooga. That is assuming we didn’t run into any bad weather or traffic. When I was a kid you didn’t have any way of knowing exactly what sort of weather you might experience along a 9 hour drive or if there was a traffic jam ahead.
GPS and Cell Phones existed, but they were so expensive that almost nobody even had one. So, just before we left the house on Christmas afternoon my Dad would call his parents and tell them our plans: We are going to be staying at this motel in Asheville, here is the phone number if you need to reach us. We plan on leaving Asheville tomorrow morning at 7:00am and arriving at your house at Noon assuming we don’t have any weather or traffic issues.
My grandparents would hang up the phone and begin to wait.
Read Genesis 22:1-18
The best guess of historians is that Abraham lived almost 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. His story and the promise of God that “by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves” was passed down generation after generation.
Along the way the promise was further clarified by Isaiah around 800 years before the birth of Christ. And in between there were many times where it seemed like this promise would not be kept. God’s people were exiled from their home, they faced generations of wandering in the desert, and they vacillated between trusting in the promise of God and doubting that any one was watching out for them at all.
As Isaiah gave his prophecies about the coming Messiah, I can imagine some people thinking to themselves, “Everyone keeps saying that and yet…still no Messiah.” But there were many who weren’t waiting pessimistically. No, these people were waiting with expectancy. They had come to trust that God always fulfilled his promise and were expecting him to deliver them again.
From their ancestors they learned the story of the Promised Land and how entire generations wandered in the wilderness and never got to see God’s promise fulfilled. God’s chosen people were not stupid or naïve. They knew they might never see this promised Messiah, but they still waited with expectancy.
My grandparents would use that phone call from my dad as a roadmap for their own waiting. They didn’t just sit around and twiddle their thumbs. They would make sure all of the beds were ready, they would run the vacuum cleaner one more time, they would carefully make sure all of the presents were tucked under the Christmas tree.
They would call my great-grandmother and let her know what time they were expecting us. She, too, would begin to get things ready for our arrival. Making sure everything was just so. Everyone was waiting expectantly for us to arrive. Their joy could hardly be contained.
Here in the south if you notice someone going to great lengths to clean their home and get their yard in top shape you might ask them, “Are you expecting company?” And that is exactly what my grandparents were doing; they were expecting company.
For 2,000 years the Israelites were expecting company. There were moments of doubt along the way, but they still expected the Messiah. And just before Jesus’ ministry started his cousin, John the Baptist reiterated this expectant waiting when he proclaimed: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
You know how it feels to be expecting guests to visit your home. You don’t mind the dusting or the extra passes you take with the vacuum. As the time for the visit draws nearer you are filled with joy that someone is coming, someone you care about enough to invite them into your home.
When the doorbell rings the joy explodes from your chest as everyone rushes to the door to greet your guest. You have been expecting them and you are so glad they are here. You take their coat, you stow their luggage, and of course you try to feed them and give them something to drink.
All of your attention is focused on your guest, no detail was too small, no nook or cranny was left unattended. You had been expecting them.
The joy of Advent can be found in this type of expectant waiting. My Grandparents did not sit around in anticipation of our arrival. They got to work making sure they were as prepared as possible for our arrival. The Israelites for all of their faults also spent time expectantly waiting by following the Law to the best of their ability. In both cases their joy was heightened by the preparation.
Philosopher Blaise Pascal once remarked, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every person that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.” It is that vacuum that Jesus was sent to fill.
Are you ready? Have you prepared your own heart for the arrival of Jesus? Is the joy of expectant waiting filling your heart? It’s almost Christmas, get busy!
You’ve got company coming.
Sing – Joy to the World
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.