I remember, as a child, having my heart set on getting a PJ Sparkles doll. Yes, a blond-haired, plastic-limbed, battery-energized doll whose bracelet, hair bow and heart embellishments would flicker and glow when you hugged her. Yes, I knew that Christmas is all about Christ - this was a lesson taught to me early in life - but Christmas as a kid was also about presents and cookies and tree-decorating and family. It must have been a shopping trip in late November or early December when I mentioned my love for this doll, but I knew better than to ask for it outright. In the first place, as I remember it, my parents were never much for just up and buying whatever my sisters and I decided we wanted (and I thank them for it!). Secondly, it was too close to Christmas, and a toy such as this was left up to Santa's discretion. I spent December wondering if (and wishing that) dear PJ would appear under the tree, but it wouldn't be until Christmas morning that would I knew for certain whether or not she had arrived (she had, by the way).
Right around Thanksgiving this year, I was shopping with my mom and one of my sisters. With my current job and looking ahead to my first call, I’m trying to put together a solid work-wardrobe. I happened upon a lovely gray pin-striped suit jacket that fit perfectly. My mom offered to buy it for me, asking, “Is it ok if I wrap this up for Christmas? Will you mind knowing what one of your presents is?” For as long as clothes have constituted good and entertaining Christmas presents (somewhere around jr. high or so), she has asked that same question. She has been willing to give up a bit of the secrecy and surprise of a Christmas present in order to give something that she knows I like and that fits and that I will use and that the store still has in stock, etc. The time spent between that purchase and Christmas day is not filled with the same sort of anticipation as I had as a child – whether it would show up or not under the tree – but instead, with the anticipation of receiving something that I have already been given.
Advent, it turns out, is not like waiting to see whether or not Santa would deliver a PJ Sparkles under the Christmas tree. We don’t wait in Advent to see whether or not Christ is going to show up in the manger. The excitement, anticipation, and hope of Advent arise from waiting for the Christ who we have already seen, the Christ who we know will show up, the Christ who has already died and been raised and saved us. I remember a class discussion on Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination where we talked about the nature of hope. We concluded that hope is not the state of waiting with uncertainty for a desired (but not guaranteed) outcome. True hope, we agreed, was the state of waiting with certainty for an expected (and desired!) outcome – true hope hinged upon faith. In the same way, the hope of Advent does not arise out of wondering what’s going to happen on Christmas Day. The hope of Advent arises out of the faith that Christ will again be present in the manger, the knowledge that the angels will sing Gloria, the joy of waiting again to receive the Christ who came to us in the form of a tiny baby. We hope and anticipate receiving that which has already been given to us: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming (and is coming, and has come!) into the world.” (John 1:9)