What does your heart most need to hear right now? What do you wish the Father would whisper right into the depths of your being? Quiet yourself down for just a moment and search inside for the answer to those questions. Maybe what you’re longing for is right there on the surface, ready to come spilling out at the slightest invitation. Or, maybe it’s stuffed way down deep, underneath all your hurts and disappointments and the armor you’ve constructed to protect yourself. But it’s in there.
It’s in there because you’re human, and although you were indeed made in this world, you were not made for this world. You were made for God and for his kingdom. C.S Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” I believe it. Yes, that ache, that unfulfilled longing is in there, and I want to encourage you to let it come forth right now. I’m going to tell you a story.
It’s the Christmas story, but not the one you’re used to hearing. Actually, it’s the story leading up to Christmas–The Advent Story–in the broadest sense. I made the following presentation for a Christmas Eve service several years ago, and it puts the birth of Jesus into context. While you watch it, I’d like for you to try to put yourself into that context. Think of the world you’re living in now; think of that longing in your heart. Watch this video, and then we’ll talk some more.
Still with me?
What struck me most about this Advent Story is how great the longing must have been for the people of Israel. Where was their Deliverer, their Comforter, their Shepherd? Since the birth of their nation, the Hebrews always had the Presence with them at all times. But after their exile into Babylon, they returned empty-handed to a broken, empty city. And when they rebuilt the Temple, it also remained empty; devoid of the Spirit of God. Had they turned him away forever? What about the promises?
For 500 years they languished, they longed. Generations came and passed. But the Holy One of Israel, this lovesick Father with a covenant-keeping heart–he could not bear to let them go it alone any longer without His rescue. So He came to them as God Incarnate, in the person of Jesus. When they could not (would not) come to him, the Lord God came to them. And while he walked the earth, he fulfilled that deep longing for anyone who came to him with an open heart:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory. -Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV
Hundreds of years of prophecies and promises in the face of despair were answered in the birth of Jesus. God himself had come to his people. And he came to stay. Not just with us, but in us. He is the answer to our every longing.
Because we still ache, don’t we? To paraphrase the popular U2 song, “we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”
And that’s OK. Because your longing–it’s good. It’s right. And healthy.
Because if we lived fully satisfied, we would lose touch with our need for God.
This Advent season–the next four Sundays leading up to Christmas–we have much to celebrate. The birth of Immanuel definitively answers many of our deepest longings, the things we most want to know and to hear:
That God is for you. He came here for you, for your help, your salvation. To call you into his loving arms.
That he loves you. Completely, unconditionally. Just as you are, but with so much more in mind for you than you have for yourself.
You have his approval. Not of everything you do or have done–but he approves of you, who you are; who he made you to be. He delights in you.
We can know all this because of Jesus; and because of Jesus, we can know who God is.
But there is more, and it gets better. Right now, we are living in a second Advent season, and we know even more about Christ’s second coming than the Hebrews did about his first. And we know for sure that this time, his coming will make all things right. For good. We know for sure that our deepest longings, every desire of our hearts will be satisfied. He will come again, echoing the covenant he made with Israel long ago, and this time, he will come to stay forever:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:1-5
We are living in the Advent of eternity. While it’s true that darkness has once again covered the earth, and thick darkness is over the people, our Light still shines, and he is coming again.
Then we will look and be radiant; our hearts will throb and swell with joy at his return. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Isaiah 60: 2, 5