December 5, 2011


“O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace”
O Come, O Come Emmanuel

“…and if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14)

The season of Advent is and has always been one of my favorite seasons of the Church Year. Maybe it’s because I’ve always enjoyed the bleakness of the late autumns and early winters November and December bring; the days are nearing their shortest and the impending winter brings a sense of everything closing in around you. It’s at this time that the familiar rhythm and practices of the Church have their greatest impact: the colors of purple (and, in some Lutheran churches, dark blue) linens, the candles, and the evergreen wreaths and boughs serve as a reminder that the joy of Christmastide is just around the corner.

More than that for me, however, are the Scripture readings the season brings; just as the Old Testament readings from the prophet Isaiah and others express ancient Israel’s longing for deliverance and reconciliation with God during its time of dispersion and exile, our attention as Christians is the hope, longing, and preparation to once again welcome the Christ Child into a hostile world. We see the increased coarseness and vulgarity of the culture we live in, the incredible cheapness of life, the violence, and the attacks on Christianity and Christians all over the world. The radical secularists of the West and radical Islamic fundamentalism in both Asia and Africa seek to stamp out all vestiges of these faiths and crush them under increased persecution through oppression and violence.

It is during these times that God seems far away indeed, and it is all too easy to throw our hands up in the air and say there’s nothing we can do about it. But Advent and the lessons from Scripture ask us to take a much broader view of ourselves, our world, and our place in it. The start of a new Church Year brings with it the opportunity for personal and spiritual renewal, and a re-examination of the way we live our lives and conduct ourselves around others. By changing ourselves, we can and do, in effect, change the world we live in.

Attending Mass today at St. Timothy Catholic Church (a perfect way to spend a morning while the car was getting serviced), I was struck by the size and diversity of the crowd that had gathered: people from every color and ethnicity, young families, lots of teens (always a great sight to see), old and young all gathered together to praise God and received Our Lord’s most precious Body and Blood. People who at any other day and time would probably not socialize together or know they share the common bond that Christianity and being a Roman Catholic brings. But for those 90 minutes we all worship, sing, listen to Scripture, pray, and receive the Eucharist together, united in a common identity that runs through Christ’s Body and Blood in a way that cannot be measured by the secular concepts of time, place, and identity.

It is in such a setting that true goals of modern-day liberalism and progressive political thought – tolerance, acceptance, and diversity – are actually practiced: not by the people present (we all, after all, have our own faults, failures, prejudices, and weaknesses), but by the one Triune God Who loves not just those who have gathered before Him, but everyone and everything He has created, in ways that are beyond our ability to understand and comprehend.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

As I left Mass and headed back to pick up my car, I couldn’t help but think that the great tragedy of my brother Mark’s death is that he could never find refuge in the Christian religion he was born into and the Roman Catholic faith he embraced several years back. There is so much hopelessness and helplessness in the world around us. We can choose to let it overwhelm us and drive us to the depths of human despair, or we can seek refuge in and embrace a loving God who loves us without question or condition. Advent teaches us that despair and disconnectedness from God, ourselves, our souls, and the world around us are nothing new: the people of ancient Israel longed for that time when their reconciliation with God would be complete. And it is from those same depths that our own hope, longing, and expectation of the Christ Child’s arrival comes from; in that way, Advent is perhaps the most “human” of Church seasons.

Were the desires, longings, and expectations of Advent left unfulfilled there would be no hope, no affirmative answer to the question of “is this all there is?” and the deep sense we all share that there has to be more than what this life and the world around us has to offer. God’s promise to humankind through the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his death and glorious Resurrection are the fulfillment of every longing and hope known to humankind. And it’s there for each of us – not just during Advent, but every day we live and breathe. God invites us into the mystery of unconditional love and waits for our response; His calling card is always stuck in our door. God hears the longings of our souls, inviting us continually to turn from our hopelessness, despair, and disconnectedness to find refuge in His infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Through Our Lord’s Incarnation God heard the prayers of Israel and delivered; during the season of Advent we are all Israel. Come, Emmanuel, indeed.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 00:25 | Comments Off on Hope, Longing and Expectation
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