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The Fruit of Anticipation

A few weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of attending a historic football game at Lambeau Field. A friend of my parish offered to sell some of her season tickets back in late October, and I quickly jumped on the opportunity  — three tickets to see the Green Bay Packers play the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs.

I love having something to look forward to and resent having to go when the time comes. The game was on a Sunday night, so after a morning of preaching, celebrating, and shaking hands, followed by a brief nap, it was a struggle to muster enough energy to wade into the pure electricity of Lambeau Field on a game night.

The game was historic. The Packers were supposed to lose handily to the powerhouse offense of the Chiefs. Even Taylor Swift made an appearance, dressed in Kansas City red. The Green and Gold held it, play after play, with our new quarterback impressing the crowd.

The event didn’t disappoint; even so, I’d almost always rather wait for something than have it arrive. I prefer the anticipation and hope.

Advent invites us into the desert, to join St. John the Baptist and Israel herself in exile for a few brief weeks, looking toward the east for the coming Lord. It’s an exciting time, and a distinct feeling accompanies it. It’s the feeling of the early dawn, when the hills are purple and fiery, the snow starts to glow, yet the sun hasn’t yet shown its face.

Advent is the season of first-time parents, of mother and father carefully and thoughtfully preparing their home, their cars, their hearts, their wallets, their lives for this new person who is soon to enter.

Christmas means the child has arrived, normal sleep is over, and football season is nearing its end. The combined exhaustion for the priest ends with a few days of naps. The end is met, the anticipation fulfilled, even as new life begins.

The child is now in the manger, the wise men approach, our ever-blessed Mother has the Christ child in her arms, and the whole earth and even history stirs at this new thing God has done in a time and place. Advent is over, the vestments have been changed, our preaching changes focus, and our eyes begin to turn to Lent and Easter.

As much as I’d rather stay in Advent, and keep the joy and hope of Christmas ever on the horizon, with all its anticipation, the season of Christmas invites us more deeply into a holy anticipation, invites us to remain on our toes and ever watchful. Perhaps we’re invited into the feast of Christmas only to whet our appetites for the ever-fuller consummation that has been promised.

Christ’s incarnation in Bethlehem is earth-shatteringly wonderful. God’s definitive amen to creation in his only Son still resounds and echoes through the earth. The season of Christmas, like Advent, keeps our eyes on the east for the Word to return again, for the second Advent. Then, too, the angels will resound loud horns for the coming King, the rulers of the earth will quake, and will ultimately cast their crowns before the feet of Christ.

We celebrate the first victory and are invited to look to the second. The Christmas season is the engagement party that always points toward the wedding feast to come.

For the Christian, and especially for the Christian priest, it means those days after Christmas aren’t a time to nap, a low period after excitement. One doesn’t hang up one’s hat after the rehearsal dinner only to miss the wedding feast. Christmastide is still a season of excitement and anticipation. The master has not yet returned home, and we are invited to remain watchful.

As the great hymnist S.J. Stone puts it, “the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.” Our victory will not be won now during the Master’s absence, but only in his return, and our marching orders remain the same even now, in this season of joy and light: to remain watchful, to stay the course of our preparation, and to keep our eyes to the east in anticipation of Jesus Christ’s return in great power and glory. I pray we aren’t found sleeping upon his return.

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