Advent is about waiting. Any child knows this perfectly well. There are many adults who seem to think Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving, or in October for that matter. But a child knows that this is not at all true. They know because though the tree might be in the living room, with ornaments and lights, and though there might be cookies in the oven, and though there might be carols on the radio and all kinds of other things to throw them off the scent, there is a hard and fast rule that presents are not opened until Christmas arrives. And so children wait and they wait, and they wait. Advent is about waiting.
Now there are different kinds of waiting. The kind of waiting that I just described, children waiting to finally open presents, that is one kind of waiting. It is hopeful anticipation. The children don’t know what is under that tree, but they are pretty certain that whatever it is, it’s going to be good.
Waiting for our new baby Abigail to arrive has been like this for me. I don’t know what she’s going to be like. I don’t know if she’ll have blond hair or red hair or no hair. I don’t know if she’ll be quiet and sweet or full of spit and vinegar. I just don’t know. But I do know that she’s going to be wonderful. And so I wait in hopeful anticipation.
But there is a different kind of waiting. And this other kind of waiting is not so nice. It is called dread. It is waiting with fear. We might wait this way before having surgery. Or this might be the kind of waiting we do before trying something new or dangerous. This isn't the kind of waiting that we want to do, of course. But it is part of our lives. We all know what it means to wait with fear.
As I said, Advent is about waiting. But which kind? Is it about waiting with fear? Or is it about waiting with hopeful anticipation? This is what I know. God is holy and he demands that we be holy as well. We are to do good without ceasing and flee from all evil. We are to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and with all our strength and with all our mind. And we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Given this command, it makes sense for us to wait with fear, because we have sinned against God. We have not done these things. According to the law of justice, we should be condemned. And so it makes sense to wait with fear for the judge to come and pass his sentence upon us.
But I am guessing that most of us gathered here tonight have not gathered in a spirit of fear. Though we have all so clearly fallen short of God's glory, yet we gather tonight in hopeful anticipation, waiting for something good to happen. Why is this? It is because we know something. We know that God promised us a savior. We know that God sent his son to be with us. We know that in baptism and Holy Communion he forgives our sins and gives us the promise of everlasting life. It is because of these promises that we can wait with hopeful anticipation. We wait these four weeks of Advent to celebrate the birth of our Lord. And we wait our whole lives long for the judgment to come. And we don’t know all of the details yet. We don’t know all of the details, but we know that it’s going to be good.