It was a dark, early morning. The sun remained asleep and yet people streamed quietly from the warmth of vehicles into the crisp winter air, up a set of stairs and into church. The flood of light accompanying the swing of the doors teased the yet-night sky.
Though pulled from my bed before the normal hour, my eyes were bright as I took in this new, poetic scene. My dad carried me up the steps where we, too, were swallowed by light. The sanctuary was warm, a welcome pushback against the cold. All around me were twinkles of Christmas lights and the flickering glow of candles.
It seemed magical, like a dream. And then came the music. The season of Advent morphed into Christmas Day as worship and light pierced the dark. As the Julotta service ended, we flooded into the early dawn, as creation itself awoke to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
At a recent Christmas party, this question was posed: “What’s your earliest Christmas memory?” Julotta is mine. A Swedish tradition, Julotta means the dawn of Christmas morn. I feel lucky that this service is my first Christmas memory. I don’t believe that is an accident. The memory gives me a tangible look at the Christmas story presented in the Gospel of John.
John opens this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
I was once part of the darkness that did not understand the light. But then, things changed. I was swallowed by the light, and nothing has been the same since.
Each year I grow to love Advent and Christmas more. This is a far cry from my old, cynical-self. Advent is a season of expectant waiting, one that aims to remember the birth of Jesus and also to remember He will come again. This year, my early memories of Julotta have increased my wonder and awe. Advent anticipates the Light come to earth. Julotta celebrates the dawn—the piercing of darkness.
I’ve grown to appreciate this mix of soul-stretching longing, anticipation, waiting and celebration. I belong to a waiting people. As a believer, I follow generations of people called to wait. I belong to a people who were given a promise. I belong to a people who waited for the promise. I belong to a people who saw the promise come. I belong to a people who continue to wait for the promised return.
As David Mathis writes, “As we wait during Advent, we replay the centuries of longing and aching anticipation that preceded the coming of Christ.”
I would add, as we wait during Advent, not only do we replay centuries of longing and anticipation of Christ’s birth, we also join generations before as we experience longing and aching anticipation for Christ’s return. The first time He came as a baby who grew to a man, crushing the evil one with his death on the cross and third day resurrection. The second time He will come as a warrior. The waiting is not a waste, and I am glad to be adopted into this people, the Church. I gladly remember and celebrate, partnered with a unified longing for what is to come.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”
Meredith Andrews sings a version that includes a bridge that powerfully reconnects to the song’s theme. It’s a fist-pump in song form:
“You draw the hearts of shepherds; You draw the hearts of kings; Even as a baby, You were changing everything; You called me to Your Kingdom; Before Your lips could speak; And even as a baby, You were reaching out for me; And now we are awaiting; The day of Your return; When every eye will see You; As heaven comes to earth; Until the sky is opened; Until the trumpet sounds; The bride is getting ready; The church is singing out:
“Come, thou long expected Jesus; Born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in thee; Come, thou long expected King.”
I’m ready. Are you? If so, let the light swallow you as you trade darkness for eternal Light. We’ll be a waiting people together.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com.