The Anticipation of Christmas

Kevin HippolyteBy Kevin Hippolyte8 Minutes

For most of my growing years, I attended a Haitian church nestled in a town in North Jersey—just a skyline view away from Manhattan. Modeling the early church, our devotion to the fellowship was central to our identity. We experienced everything together. Out of all the memories we shared, there was nothing quite like celebrating Christmas as a church family.

The Christmas Eve service was the most wonderful time of the year at Shiloh Baptist Church. The sanctuary was adorned with Christmas decor and congregants decked out in their Sunday best. This was a night filled with worship: children recited poems, choirs sang hymns, bands played symphonies, and the pastor preached the Word. (Did I mention this was a big deal?) The service started later in the night so that by the time it concluded, we would be entering Christmas Day together.

The night wasn’t complete until what took place after the sermon. It was the moment every child in attendance looked forward to—the gift exchange! Sister Michelle, a pillar in our church, organized a secret gift exchange for the children. The end of the service signaled the beginning of gift giving. We waited with expectancy as a collective body. Restless kids, up way past their bedtime, with a shared hope, waiting for the pastor to wrap up his sermon so we could unwrap our gifts!

When the pastor concluded the service, loads and loads of wrapped gifts were brought to the front of the stage—what a sight! Our faces lit up like Rockefeller Center. One by one “to” and “from” tags are read. Then I heard, “From [child’s name] to … KEVIN!” I quickly raised my hand so they could locate me and hand me my gift. A present that was intentionally purchased and wrapped beautifully for me—my joy was complete.

When the Wait Is Long

Don’t you wish all waiting was like that? A short period of time, quickly wrapped up with our hopes fulfilled. We wish all waiting could be a well-defined season that ends with joy. But for most of us, seasons of waiting are much different than my experience of receiving a Christmas gift at church. For some, a season of waiting bears so much weight because what’s on the other side—their hope—could possibly change the entire trajectory of their life. This can look like waiting on the big job promotion or new career that will help you better support your family, an admissions letter from a school, or lab results to show the cancer is finally gone.

The in-between period of waiting and having our hope realized can feel like waiting in total darkness. You’ve done all you can on your end and the only other thing you can do is sit and wait. “Waiting is the hardest part” is not a line in your favorite holiday tune, but this sentiment rings true—especially during this time of year.

Advent is a time where we are invited to slow down and sit in that in-between period. RC Sproul describes this season like this:

“The Advent season is that time when we seek to, in a manner of speaking, mute our memory of what has already happened, that we might brighten our joy that it happened. We leave the already of His advent to taste the bitter of the not yet. We, in short, go back, that we might look forward to His coming.”

When we think about the Christmas story, our minds quickly fast forward to the nativity scene. Partly that’s because we are familiar with the story, but also because we want to see resolution. When you rewatch your all-time favorite film, what is it that brings you back? We watch again because we enjoy joining our favorite characters on this journey and experience unfolding drama. We are reinvested with the plot and the characters. We laugh again, we cry again, we recite our favorite lines with them, and we’re left reminded why this is the greatest movie ever!

Do you fast-forward just to get to the end? Of course not! No, we must take in the full weight of the conflict to fully understand the importance of the resolution.

When we mute our memory of what has already happened, we revisit the Christmas story afresh. Before we get to the final act, we pause and sit in the waiting of the world before Christ. We go back to a time where God’s people were in utter darkness. They hadn’t heard from God in 400 years. Not only was God silent, they were under the rule of the Roman Empire in the midst of political tension, oppression, corruption, and division. Caesar had appointed the evil Herod as the so-called “king of the Jews.” God’s people waited with anticipation—clinging to a hope that was promised generations ago. Does this sound a little bit like our world? Filled with war, oppression, corruption, and division? God’s faithful people were waiting with hope for God to come and save his people. They didn’t know how it would happen. They didn’t think it would happen the way it did—a lowly birth, a terrible death—but that dark back drop made the resurrection shine that much brighter. Their hopes were fulfilled in a way they could never have predicted. Jesus was worth the wait.

When we “leave the already of His advent to taste the bitter of the not yet” we’re more sensitive to the somber state of the world before Christ’s arrival. Our joy is brightened as we celebrate his first Advent and we wait with anticipation for the second coming of our King. Jesus is worth the wait!

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).