Advent truly is the most wonderful time of the year for me. It is a season of preparation, anticipation, waiting, longing, and celebration; you can smell the scent of hope and new beginnings in the air. Every year I crave its arrival more and more.
For the past few years, I’ve noticed that I have developed a routine for entering into the new Christian liturgical year. On the first Sunday of Advent, as soon as I wake up, I sit up in my bed and release a very long exhale. This moment represents my receiving the invitation Jesus extends when he says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 CEB). For me, the moment is more than the physical process of letting my diaphragm and the muscles between my ribs relax and reduce the space taken up by air in my chest cavity. It is spiritually breathing out all the pain, suffering, and hopelessness I have experienced within and without during the year past, preparing space so I can breathe in more of life with Christ in the days to come.
My Advent routine does not end with this moment of exhale and inhale. Once I’m up with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I light a candle, pull up the music playlist on my phone, and listen to a version of a Charles Wesley hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” My favorite version is by Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb. I usually play the song a few times until I find myself getting lost in deep longing and prayer as I sing along.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Advent is a time when we pause to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time to celebrate with grateful hearts the incarnation of love in Jesus. We journey through the weeks of Advent with awe and wonder at the unfathomable love of God, that God would choose to pour Godself into the world through Jesus, in order for us truly to know that love and to be liberated to experience new life. We experience a different life orientation that shapes our vision, speech, thoughts, and actions, and we seek to bear witness to such love long after Christmas has come and gone.
Advent also is a time when we name and remember our longing for and need of forgiveness, restoration, and redemption in the present day, waiting for Christ to come again in final victory. In the meantime, as we wait, Jesus calls us into the world to participate in acts of compassion, preparing the way for God’s love to be known by all who are in need of hearing the good news, having their sight restored, and experiencing freedom.
The most transformative understanding of Jesus that I have encountered—through Scripture and through the relationships I have formed in following the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40 CEB)—is of his mission to set us free.
Excerpted with permission from Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas by Jorge Acevedo with Jacob Armstrong, Rachel Billups, Justin LaRosa & Lanecia Rouse (Abingdon Press, 2015)
Jorge Acevedo is the Lead Pastor at Grace Church, a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida. He is author of Sent: Delivering The Gift of Hope At Christmas, Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World, and co-author of The Heart of Youth Ministry, and is a contributor to Circuit Rider magazine, Good News magazine, and Our Faith Today.