Olivia Dear Thames
Advent: December 9
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.”
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.”
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 their grand entrance into this world, yet celebrating the coming King didn't require a birthday.
If the unborn John the Baptist celebrated the coming of unborn Jesus by leaping in his mother's womb, how then should we celebrate the coming of Jesus this Advent and always? The same way, in fact: with joy.
Joy likely isn't our natural response to Advent. You may be stressed about what to get your loved ones who have given you so much. You may be weary and exhausted with a December calendar full of festivities. You may be aching to spend Christmas with your loved ones and 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 this joy that John the Baptist experienced, 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.”
"We are no longer alone" because the coming of Jesus means that God is right here with us. In this day, in this moment, in this season—He is with us.
And this 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 that cardigan you didn't exactly love. 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 even 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. This joy does not mean you cannot be grieving or waiting or hurting simultaneously—it's joy that meets you right in the middle of that.
Amidst these coming weeks, let us not miss the joy of Christmas and our true joy as Christians: that Christ not only came that first Christmas, but He is absolutely coming again.
To all of us grieving, longing, and waiting this season, this is truly good news of great joy.