For many, 2020 has felt like one long groan. Between the pandemic, a struggling economy, the isolation of quarantine and online school, civil unrest, racial injustice, wildfires, hurricanes, a noisy election, and divisive public discourse, this year has reminded us again and again of our mortality, lack of control, and collective brokenness. As 2020 comes to a close, we long—perhaps like never before—for hope, love, joy, and peace.
In other words, 2020 has primed us for the ache of Advent.
Biblical Ache and Groaning
Advent is a season set aside for waiting and watching, longing and looking for the Messiah. Through liturgies, calendars, wreaths, and more, we lean into the tension of anticipation, counting down the days until Christ’s arrival with expectancy and hope. Even as we celebrate Christ’s first arrival, we watch and ache for his promised second coming, when God will dwell with us forever and everything fractured will be made new (Rev. 21:3–5).
As Christians, this ache should not be surprising, unfamiliar, or even relegated to the Advent season. In Romans 8, Paul says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now . . . [and we too] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Elsewhere Paul says, “In this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:4), and “We live godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12b–14).
Groaning, aching, and longing pervade the pages of Scripture. These emotions should mark the Christian life not just during Advent, but all year long. Yet many of us—especially Western Christians—don’t resonate with these themes.
That is, until something like 2020 comes our way.
2020’s Aches and Groans
Eugene Peterson once said, “A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” If we let it, 2020 can whet our appetite for the kingdom of God and for Jesus, her glorious King.
A global pandemic has shown us our mortality and fragility. Oh, that the pandemic would awaken our worship of the resurrected King! Even as we work to eradicate the virus, may it stir up a desire for that great Day when “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54), when God himself wipes our tears away, and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:4–5).
The presidential election divided our country, churches, and families, and many Christians feel politically homeless. Oh, that this feeling of exile would remind us our citizenship is in heaven, our King is Jesus, and our platform is his kingdom! May our current political climate stir up a deeper longing for the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” who will uphold his kingdom “with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isa. 9:6–7).
This year has also brought a new awareness of racial injustice, broken systems, and wrongs against the poor and the refugee. Oh, that we would allow this awareness to lead us to repentance and a truer outworking of biblical justice. Oh, that it would catalyze more delight in the God who “executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” and “watches over the immigrant and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Ps. 146:7–9).
May the isolation of quarantine, and the fact that many of us have gone without in-person worship since March, drive us to deeper gratitude for the family of God. May it prompt in us a longing for Christ’s return, when “the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Isa. 25:6) and “a great multitude” will eat the marriage supper of the Lamb and worship together (Rev. 19:6–9).
Wildfires and hurricanes, and in some cases riots and looting, have left many Americans with a tangible sense of the desolation Isaiah described: a land scorched and dry, cities plundered, a barren wilderness thick with thorns (cf Isa. 24). But even as we grieve this desolation and work to bring God’s shalom to our cities and towns, may it prompt us to turn to the God who “comforts all [Zion’s] waste places, and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD” (Isa. 51:3). May it cause us to eagerly await the day when “the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come into Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads . . . and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (v. 11).
Songs of Longing and Hope
My new album, A Seed, A Sunrise, draws heavily from Isaiah, exploring the longing hope of Advent, the joy of Christmas, and the anticipation of Christ’s return. Although we recorded it just before the upheaval of 2020 began, these songs seem all the more relevant now in the midst of all this year has wrought. I pray that this album (listen and pre-save here) will be a balm for us and a resource for the church, giving voice to both longing and hope. (Watch a video below for one of the songs, “Comfort, Oh Comfort.”)
This year has shaken idols, uprooted comforts, reminded us of our mortality, and brought a new awareness of the brokenness around us. As this difficult year draws to a close, Advent gives us the opportunity to voice both the unwavering hope we have in Jesus and the longing cry, “How long, O Lord?” And when that long-awaited Day of rejoicing comes, it will be all the more glorious for the ache we experience now, like the dawn after a long darkness, or a distant garden blooming in the desert.
Caroline Cobb is a singer-songwriter who loves to use music to help God’s people rehearse and remember God’s Story. Her newest album, A Seed, A Sunrise, explores the longing of Advent, the joy of Christmas, and the anticipation of Jesus’s return, and builds on previous Story-telling albums the Blood + the Breath (2013) and a Home & a Hunger (2017), which was named among TGC’s “Best Christian Albums of the 2010s.”