The Advent season doesn’t technically start until the fourth Sunday before Christmas, but I start looking toward it as early as the first of October. Halloween is meaningless to me. Thanksgiving is a great excuse to eat leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast 6 days in a row. But for me it’s all about Advent. People usually relate autumn and the onset of winter with death, and spring with rebirth. That is certainly an appropriate way to look at the cycle God has put into place. But for me, autumn has another meaning; relief. I work in a metal fabrication shop. It’s really hot. You have to wear long pants, and long sleeves are preferred. Acetylene torches burn steel in two. Welding machines put it back together, and molten metal sprays through the air and spills on the shop floor. The temperature in some corners of the shop reaches 115 degrees. From the middle of May until late September, the heat is oppressive. There’s no other word to describe it. My co-workers and I have a longing. It’s a longing for cooler weather. We need a break from the heat. We need cooler, thinner air. And we know that only October can bring it. But for me (and I suspect for you) there is another longing. And the onset of autumn and the approaching Advent season make that longing all the more real. This longing begins to pulse, and gradually it begins to rise to the surface. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.
But what is this longing? Is it really just regret? Is it the pain of failed relationships, unmet goals, or dead-end jobs? Is it the memory of lost loved ones? Is it longing for simpler times? Well, it may be mixed with some or all of this, but it is really so much more. It’s a deep down, impossible to describe, longing that we all feel. That sense that this is not all there is, and that we were meant for some other life. C.S. Lewis put it this way in his essay “The Weight of Glory:”
In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
If you’re thinking to yourself “what in the world is Lewis talking about” then read it again. He’s saying (much more eloquently than I can) that the longing you feel is not a desire to go back to the best times of your life. He’s saying you long for something you have never actually had. The Jews knew this longing. God had promised something that they could not fathom. He had promised to one day dwell with them as he had in the garden, before the fall. But how? He had promised a savior, but who? The Old Testament is replete with messianic prohpecies, promising that one day, a deliverer would come to save God’s people. Perhaps the most clear and most appropriate of these prophecies for this subject is Isaiah 9:6:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in a land of darkness, on them has light shined. You have muliplied the nation; you have increased its joy, they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tummult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.
And there are others. This one prophecy alone promises the coming of a man from the line of King David who would establish David’s throne forever. He would be a man who would rule so completely and honorably that he would be called names like “Prince of Peace” and “Wonderful Counselor.” But he would also be called Everlasting Father. Huh? And Mighty God. What? The Jews were the most devoutly monotheistic group of people on earth (maybe the only). How could a man, be God? How could a man rule forever? These were questions that did not have easy answers. Still year after year, century after century, the Jews looked for the coming of this deliverer. They were longing for a King. They were longing for a country. They had a land, but they did not have peace, so they longed for the Prince of Peace. They had had many kings, but they were longing for the one who would rule with the heart of David, the wisdom of Solomon, and justice, honor and might to a measure beyond anything they had seen. They didn’t know it, but they were longing for advent. More importantly, they were longing for Jesus.
But what the Jews could not understand from their point of view, was that the prophecies they longed to see fulfilled were pointing to two events, not one. They were pointing to a first coming, but also a second coming. You see Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He was born into the family of David. All of these prophecies were fulfilled in his first advent. But what about this “the government will be on his shoulder” talk? What about “his reign shall have no end?” Do we see Jesus ruling the nations from his throne in Jerusalem? No, we don’t. Jesus was very clear, when he said, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus IS building his kingdom. But he is doing it in the hearts of men and women. One day his kingdom will come in its fullness, and he will put every enemy under his feet. But that has not happened yet. These things will happen at his second advent. That’s why the longing remains. Our longing is both pacified and fed at Christmas. It is pacified because we rejoice in Christ’s first advent. We celebrate that the “light that gives light to every man [has come] into the world” (John 1:4). But we also remember the cross, and the tomb, and the empty tomb. And we remember his ascension back to the Father…and this promise:
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:2-3
His first advent guarantees the second. And when he comes again, this feeling that Lewis describes as an “Inconsolable secret” will be satisfied. But for now, long-on fellow wanderer. We are not home yet.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – 1 Corinthians 2:9
Each month I’ll post a new song. This month’s song is from my album Hymns and Carols, and you can have it FREE. Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours. If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission. Visit the Donate page for more details. And please share this blog with your friends.
(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you the MP3)
Original Words by Charles Wesley. Additional lyrics by Mark E. Hunt copyright 1978 Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Used by permission.
Music based on original melody. Copyright 2009 Eric Parker/BMI
Eric Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar
Brett Nolan – keys, drums
Fred Gault – bass
Matt Twitty – electric guitar
Susan Whitacre – viola
Rachel Beckmann – cello
Autumn Cone – vocals