This post was originally published in December of 2009. I've added several coffee mugs to my own collection since then.
Recently, I sat down in a local coffee shop in the hopes of getting some sermon work done. Alas, there was another person in the place intent on bringing the rest of us along on his own personal quest for the perfect gift. In his thick New England accent, he loudly perused the gift table next to where I was sitting. Carefully he picked up each potential gift and then extolled its many benefits to no one in particular. After what seemed like half an hour (but was probably closer to five minutes), he settled upon some Christmas mugs – on sale no less – for $3.99. He checked with one of the sales clerks, “$3.99? Really? These are great. I have some white ones like them but these Christmas ones are spectacular. They’ll look great with my Christmas dishes. . . .” And on and on and on.
Then an interesting thing happened. When Mr. Boston finally made his purchase and left the store, I breathed deeply and turned my attention back to my work. I expected others to do the same. But they didn’t. Instead, several other patrons left their tables and came over to look at those Christmas mugs. There wasn’t any shoving or pushing, but there was certainly some angling for position. Within minutes every last one of those previously ignored mugs had been sold! I laughed in slight amazement. I wondered to myself if Mr. Boston had been planted by the store to push those mugs.
Plant or not, he exposed something of human nature that day. Most of us live with a realization that there is more to life than we’re currently experiencing. We live with a fear that we’re missing out on something that other people have found. We rush to fill up that empty place with all sorts of things – something as silly as Christmas mugs – or as the recent fall of one of my favorite golfers reveals – something as tragic as a relationship with someone other than one’s spouse. But all these pursuits prove to be in vain. Next Christmas, next year, next time our significant other lets us down, without having learned a thing, we’ll be making the exact same searches for new gifts or new people that will momentarily tickle our souls.
But what if we’re taking the wrong approach altogether? What if the longing in our hearts wasn’t something to be fixed at all? What if the uneasiness that there’s something more to this life might instead be a gift from God himself? What if that longing is a gift that’s meant to keep us from settling for cheap imitations of the Kingdom of God? What if, instead of deadening our longings with the narcotic of instant gratification, we are meant to nurture those desires into holy anticipation? The practice of Advent is meant to lead us in just that direction. If we'll take time to embrace the empty places in our lives this season, if we'll resist the urge to fill them up with the first thing we find, we might be able to replace the fleeting desires for cheap ceramics and illicit affairs with a deeper longing for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Oh Lord, teach us to long for deeper things.
I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me – Micah 7:7.