Get ready, get set . . .
I used to be a runner. In high school, despite my spindly build, I was a sprinter, serving as the first leg of the 800-meter relay. With clarity, I remember those few seconds crouched in the starting blocks before each race, waiting for the relay to begin.
The year of our best relay squad I was the youngest and slowest of the four on our team. As I approached the blocks, I would scan the track and take in my fellow team members. Immediately in front of me was Zach Branch, beyond Zach was Bradley Welchel, and finally there was Chad Register—the anchor leg—who could release a burst of speed on which I hung a fair amount of hope. I would look at these three and take a deep breath, acknowledging that my near future was tied to theirs. And then I’d set my feet in the blocks.
The next few seconds were some of the fullest I’ve experienced. Before it ever fired, I could hear the crack of the starting pistol. I could smell its acrid smoke. Energy pulsated through me in those moments, my legs wanting to burst out of the blocks toward their destination. In my mind I could see myself bending into the curve of the track. I could feel the sure and practiced contact as I passed the baton to Zach. With clarity, I could see Chad crossing the finish line, having anchored us all and won the race. I imagined what was to come with such vividness that it was almost as real to me in the blocks as when I actually ran the track. In the small and insignificant event of a high school track meet, I lived into the future with all that I was. It truly was expectant waiting.
That is what the Advent season is all about. Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, but we must take care not to allow it to become primarily nostalgic for the past. Good Christmas memories are important, to be sure, but sometimes nostalgia can lapse into “pining,” which is a yearning for an idealized past that never was in place a future-oriented hope for the day when Christ will return to renew all things. Pining is blind to an expectant future. Pining renders one numb to the world around him. If our Advent waiting is merely a pining, then nothing changes for the better, either within ourselves or in the world round about us.
For the runner in the blocks, numbness is deadly. The runner needs to feel every nerve ending crackle and experience the pulsating energy that readies him for the sound of the starting pistol. He needs not to dwell on some past race but to envision the coming one, hoping that he’ll be transformed by the experience. So it is with Advent. We are called to wait expectantly like the runner in the blocks, to imagine that we will be transformed when Christ arrives among us. We’re called to see ourselves bending into the track, carrying forward the baton of God’s vision, sometimes passing it on to others and other times taking it into our hands, but always knowing that there are those who run this race with us.
We just weeks away. Can you smell the stable stall? Can you hear the cry of the anxious mother about to give birth, the sounds of the skittish animals gathered round? Can you anticipate what the unknowing shepherds will soon see erupt in the night sky? Can you imagine what it will mean for the God who so loves the world to be born into it—and to come again at the Second Advent to begin the work of renewing the whole world? Get ready, get set…