“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are hevel, a chasing after the wind,” says the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 1:14. Some versions of the Bible translate hevel as “meaningless” but it also carries the meaning “vapor.” That means all the things done on earth are vapor, a breath that looks white and substantial as it’s released into the winter air, but is gone too quickly to be grasped.
Advent, which remembers thousands of years of God’s people longing for his salvation, begins four Sundays before Christmas day. That means it invites us into over four weeks of anticipation and longing – that can be a tough sell in a commercial season of lights, sparkle, and cozy Christmas cheer.
We think of Christmas as a season filled with meaning, but the Teacher would say that our celebrations, too are hevel – quickly fleeting and often leaving us weary as we enter ordinary time. Advent reminds us to be cautious about where we seek meaning by grounding us in the hope of the ages.
While Advent isn’t a biblically mandated observance, it is a valuable one. It anchors us in the eternal plan of God rather than our fleeting Christmas traditions. In Advent, we add our voices to those of God’s people awaiting his deliverance throughout time, and we remember our connection to his story of redemption. As we read the Bible, we’re aware that the story of the Redeemer isn’t limited to the four gospels. Every book we read sings of Jesus. So we long for his coming alongside generations of believers, and we’re ready to burst with joy when we read in Galatians four:
We rejoice in the coming of Jesus at the time God appointed. However, our anticipation doesn’t end at the incarnation, but carries on in the already-but-not-yet spiritual reality of our current existence. As Paul writes in Romans 8:23, the groaning of anticipation continues as we await the full expression of our redemption:
In Advent we don’t only re-live the eager waiting for the Messiah, we also live in confident hope and longing for Christ’s return. We remember that the posture of a disciple, as Jesus tells us, is watchful expectancy.
So how do we approach the Bible in this Advent season? This question is less about what we read than how we read it.
We read it slowly, leaning into the waiting, letting our hearts be shaped by the joyful – and sometimes painful – yearning for the second coming of the One we’re called to love with all our hearts, souls and strength. We allow the frenzy of Christmas trappings to be stilled in the presence of the living Word of God.
We read it seeking greater knowledge of the Redeemer, a knowledge that moves beyond the intellectual to the intimately relational. We ask how our Advent readings illuminate the character, qualities, and mighty acts of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. We grow in our adoration and love.
And finally, we read with assurance in his promises. Remembering his faithfulness in the past, we cling confidently to his promises not to leave us as orphans (John 14:18) and to provide new strength (Isaiah 40:30) and rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29) as we wait for him to carry his good work to completion (Philippians 1:6). We draw strength from the knowledge that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:39) and live with missional intentionality as we pray along with the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!”