Advent is about waiting. We wait for Christmas. We wait to celebrate the incarnation—Jesus Christ breaking into our world of sin and pain and sorrow and giving us the gift of God’s very presence among us. As Titus 2:13 puts it “we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The last few days our family has been waiting, as well. But it has been a different kind of waiting, a waiting tinted with grief and sorrow. Kim’s grandfather, Garrett Lems, has been in his last days on this Earth. The family members living back in Iowa were called to his bedside on Saturday--called to wait for the inevitable, for a death that was coming. We didn’t know exactly when it was coming, but it was coming soon. Here in Wisconsin, we were left to wait for news from afar. This was not a waiting filled with the light of excitement and hope. No, we were waiting in the dusk of sadness and grief. At least in Advent we wait for life; we wait to celebrate God coming into the world as a man. But now our family was waiting for a death, for a man we dearly loved to leave the world he’d lived in for nearly 96 years.
It has been a tough year for us. My father died in February, my grandmother in July. And now, we were waiting for Kim’s grandfather to die as well. All three were Godly people in their own way, servants who had lived exemplary lives of service to their King. We know all three were in some sense waiting for death, ready to escape the ravages of age and disability. But even as our heads told us to rejoice for three saints whose certain destination is eternal life with their Savior, our hearts still grieve. We grieve because we’ve lost three people who have had an immeasurable influence on our lives, who shaped us into who we are today.
Tonight, I was working on the details of an Advent service for this coming Sunday. Throughout the evening, the strains of the Advent hymns planned for that service played in my mind. I could hear them all: “Savior of the Nations Come,” “Of The Father’s Love Begotten,” “O Come, O Come Immanuel.” By 10:00, Kim went to bed, tired out from waiting. But I stayed downstairs for a little while to do some reading and get things ready for the upcoming week. I wasn’t quite ready for bed--those Advent hymns were still playing in my head.
As I was winding things down, I suddenly heard a new song playing in my mind, one that didn’t make much sense. It’s a Dutch Easter hymn that we sang a few times at my church growing up—“A Shout Rings Out,” or in Dutch, “Daar Juicht een Toon.”
A shout rings out, a joyful voice:
"Jerusalem, arise, rejoice!"
A glorious morning breaks the night;
the Son of God is risen with might.
I have to admit I was a little perplexed about why this song popped into my head at just this moment. I’d been humming Advent hymns. How did an Easter song get into my mind’s playlist? And somehow it got put on repeat—it played over several times.
About fifteen minutes later, Kim came downstairs. She had awakened to a text from her mother. Grandpa had passed away. Fifteen minutes ago. Almost exactly at the time that Easter hymn popped into my head.
It took a few minutes for the impact to hit me. Advent songs are about waiting for our hoped-for Savior. Easter songs are about celebrating the victory of that Savior. And just as the song in my mind changed from Advent to Easter, Grandpa’s waiting had come to an end. He was now celebrating with his Savior.
Even after death, there is a sense in which we are waiting—awaiting Christ’s triumphant return, awaiting the day when he restores the heavens and the earth, when the Kingdom comes in full. But because of Easter, we can be absolutely certain that that day is coming. The long night of waiting is over; we can already see the light in the East—that glorious morning that breaks the night. Grandpa Lems is there, rejoicing with a joyful shout, along with my Dad and Grandma and all the saints who have gone before us.
Since Christ the Lord is risen with might,
new life begins in glorious light:
a life that triumphs over death,
eternal life with Christ, our Head.