In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39–45
Some scholars say that this encounter marks the first celebration of Advent—the first joyous response at the coming of Christ. And in true Advent fashion, it just so happens that an unborn baby took the lead.
The unborn John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb at the presence of the unborn Jesus. Neither baby had even made his grand entrance into this world, yet celebrating the coming King didn't require a birthday. If an unborn child could celebrate the Advent of Jesus, how then should we? The same way, in fact: with joy.
Joy likely isn't your natural response to Advent. You may be stressed about what to get your loved ones who have given you so much or worried about navigating holidays with a broken family. You may be weary and exhausted with a December calendar full of festivities. You may be wishing things would go back to how they used to be. You may think this entire season feels like a sad reminder of what you're longing for.
But the joy of Christ's coming is our light against the darkness crowding in. It's our lifeline, our guide, our rope, our ladder, and our anchor. It's a gift for our best days, our worst days, and every single day in between.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be—in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God’s goodness will once again draw near.”
The joy of Advent isn't something that has to ascend to the attic on December 26th (or January 10th, if you are Olivia Thames), be tossed out like ripped wrapping paper, or get returned like the jeans your husband bought you that only one toe could fit in. The joy of this season is not merely about Christ's first coming and that miraculous, humble birth in Bethlehem. No, the joy of Advent—of waiting—is that He is coming again.
He is coming again to wipe every tear. He is coming again to heal all pain. He is coming again to fulfill creation. He is coming again to make all things new.
Before he was hung in a Nazi prison, Alfred Delp wrote, “Advent is blessed with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time.”
If the joy of Advent could be experienced in one of the darkest places amidst one of the darkest times in history, it can be found now. If the joy of Advent could somehow be experienced by the unborn John the Baptist, you too can experience it. Advent is joy for our darkest hours, our most soul-crushing years, our most defeating seasons, and our most sleepless nights—because the coming of Jesus changes everything.
To all of us grieving, longing, and waiting this season, this is truly good news of great joy.