When I was a child I shared an upstairs bedroom with two of my brothers. An old blackboard hung on a gabled wall of the bedroom, and I would occasionally attempt to draw something recognizable with very little success. Each fall, though, the blackboard turned into a calendar marking down the days until Thanksgiving and Christmas. I would chalk an “X” through each day, but the days seemed to pass so slowly. It’s not easy for a child to be patient especially when waiting for Christmas to arrive.
It wasn’t so much the gifts to which I looked forward though, as it was the whole Christmas season. As kids we memorized parts for the Christmas pageant at church and were given musty smelling old robes to wear. We sang Christmas carols at nursing homes and in neighborhoods. My mom sent out Christmas cards, and the ones we received were placed on the mantel above the fireplace. At stores like Woolworth’s or Payless we bought presents for each other, wrapped them and put them under the tree. A dollar went a lot further in the 1950s-60s than it does today.
We cut down a tree in the watershed area near our home, decorated it with homemade and recycled store-bought ornaments, and sprayed fake snow on the tree. Some years in western Washington we had real snow at Christmas. I loved to look out the living room window at the silently falling snowflakes backlit by the streetlight on our driveway as they dusted the fir trees. Beautiful and peaceful – a silent night, indeed.
It was our family tradition to open presents on Christmas Eve. After dinner the family would gather around the fireplace, and my dad would read the Christmas story from either the Gospel of Matthew or Luke. I figured that he liked Luke’s story the best since it was longer and made us wait to open presents. Our Christmas stockings, hung on our stone chimney with care, had a can of black olives in them every year along with nuts, fruit, and hard candy. The presents would be unwrapped last with each of us opening one while the others waited their turn.
If waiting for Christmas for a few months proved difficult for me as a child, imagine what faithful Israelites must have felt as they earnestly awaited the coming of the Messiah for many long years. They desired God’s deliverance and salvation as they lived in a society where oppression and faithlessness were common. That first Advent or coming of the Messiah proved to be greater than they could have imagined. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).
Charles Wesley, a famous 18th century hymnist and brother of John Wesley, penned the following words in 1745 for an Advent hymn he titled “Come thou long expected Jesus”. I believe he accurately captured the desires of those who awaited the first Advent and those of us who look forward in anticipation of Christ’s second Advent.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
May your longing heart be filled with joy and hope in the light of God’s greatest gift of love.
Dr. Robin Dummer