Advent and the Sulks
1) What season are we celebrating? Advent.
2) What is Advent? Advent is the season before Christmas.
3) What kind of season is Advent? Advent is a season of waiting.
4) Where are we waiting? In a land of deep darkness.
5) What are we waiting for? The Light to shine on us.
6) What do we do during Advent? Prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus.
7) What do we confess during Advent? Christ has come; Christ will come again.
So says our Advent catechism. Advent is a season of waiting. And for us, marking Advent is, in a small way, an act of resistance to our culture’s larger orientation toward Christmas. Our culture doesn’t like to wait. Our culture treats the Christmas seasons as a month-long season of incessant bustle, frenetic activity, endless buying and selling, constant festivity, all building up to the big binge at Christmas. The Christmas season is book-ended by football on Thanksgiving and Bowl Week after Christmas. It’s kicked off with our own Holy Week: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday, each complete with their own hashtag. In America the Christmas season begins with a celebration of consumerism, capitalism, wealth, with a smattering of generosity, localism, and gratitude to a vague and unknown deity in order to salve our consciences.
Now there’s inherently sinful about participating in the American version of the holiday season. I enjoyed my turkey and football on Thanksgiving and bought some presents on Black Friday. Our Community Group will be having a special festive meal this Wednesday. But it’s important to recognize that the Christian holiday season is different, and it’s different because Advent is a season of waiting. Our celebration is marked by a certain quality: an ache, a longing, a sense of almost painful expectation. That’s why we sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s why it’s good to put the presents under the tree and make the kids wait. Because Advent is a season of waiting, of expectation. Yes, we can celebrate, because Christ has come, and everything is different. But Advent is the time when we allow our aches and longings to bubble up from the depths of our hearts, when we give voice to the hopes and fears of all the years that will be met in that little town of Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
And this quality of Advent challenges us in a particular way. How many of us are fretting and anxious about our lives? How many of us have unmet desires and deep anxieties and painful aches in our souls right now? And how many of us, in that fretfulness and anxiety and deep, unmet desire, have been tempted, like Adam and Eve, to seize the good before the time? In some sense, impatience was the first sin—a refusal to trust the fatherly kindness of God to give us all good things in his own time. Or, perhaps, if we can’t seize the gift before the time, how many of us have fallen into the pit of impatience and anger and grumbling at God, which we’ve then taken out on other people, especially those closest to us? In other words, how many of us, this Advent, if we’re honest, have a bad case of the Sulks? How many of us are wallowing in our frustration, moping in our misery, and pouting in our impatience, because we’re tired of waiting?
The Sulks is a sin. And in a moment, we’ll confess it together. But before we do, I have an exhortation and a reminder. The exhortation is: Advent is the perfect season to bring those unmet desires to God. Don’t wallow in them. Give voice to the ache. Tell him what you want. Tell him how much it hurts. Pour out your soul before the Lord. As our old pastor put it, load his shoulders down if you think they’re strong.
The reminder comes from the sermon on Abraham and Isaac. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for his all, will give us everything. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. There’s nothing about timing in that promise. “When” he gives you everything is left unstated. But the promise is as sure as the blood that was shed to purchase it. So tell him your desires, ask him to make your desires his desires, and then, trusting in the promise, delight yourself in the Lord, and wait.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek him together now.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, as a nation and a culture, we don’t know how to wait. The idea of patience, of waiting with a happy heart, of deep joy when you don’t have what you want, is so foreign to us. We are a people who seize, who take, who demand, and who will wallow in misery when we don’t get our way.
What’s more, Father, we confess that in the church we too have grown impatient. We have sulked and moped and pouted, and we have been incredibly defensive if anyone has the audacity to point it out. The Sulks is a sin that hates to be named. And so we name it now. We confess it now, because it is a great evil. Forgive us, we pray, when our hearts demand that you satisfy us on our terms, in our way, on our schedule. Have mercy upon us, for we are miserable offenders.
And we know, Father, that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.
Father, we thank you that your mercy meets us in the Sulks and turns it into patient longing and lament. Your forgiveness reorients our unmet desires and directs them toward yourself. Thank you for the gift of Advent, when we are especially encouraged to give voice to these longings, aches, hopes, and fears. All of them meet in Jesus, so grant us now that we would delight in him above all things, trusting that no good thing will you withhold from us, and that in the end, you will give us everything. By your Holy Spirit, renew our hearts so that our thoughts, desires, loves, words, and deeds align with your own. Through Christ we pray, Amen.