November 30, 2014
ADVENT I (B)
Be watchful! Be Alert! – Mark 13: 33
Adventare is the infinitive of the Latin verb advenio meaning to draw near, to approach. The spirit of this time in the Church year is captured by a little poem:
The silent stars ring out with mirth, the graves with grass are green; Christ cometh twice upon the earth, we live between.
T.S. Eliot in his poem “Burnt Nornton” refers to how we, especially in the U.S., seem to be prisoners of the present: “Time past & time future allow but a little consciousness.” We often behave like moles burrowing deep in the soil for fear of having to face the tremendous question of our eternal future. Our bondage to things temporal must be broken before we can behold & desire things eternal.
‘Crisis’ in Greek means judgment. Personal, communal & cosmic crises jolt us out of our complacency & may (if we allow it) expand our vision of ourselves & our world. Yet it is easier to part with our money than our ego, & it is the latter that obstructs our view of an infinitely larger universe than the one defined by our ego. In this regard, science has been of assistance by making us aware of the enormity of just the physical universe alone.
Such crises, informed by supernatural grace, can even lead us to a glimpse of ourselves from God’s perspective – an experience that is simultaneously humbling & devastating. The prophet Isaiah & the apostle Peter both had this experience in common & were shocked that the divine should take notice of them. They both became painfully aware of their sinfulness. Penitence has been defined as “love mourning over sins that hide the beloved” (Fr. Congreve).
Hope, on the other hand, is the flower issuing from the root penitence. Penitence, you see, it not the contemplation of our failure, but the loveliness of Christ that brings us the love & hope that seemed leafless & dead in the spiritual winter of our sins. This is why fasts precede feasts in the Church year.
Hope, you see, transforms science, art, & work into a search for God. Aspiration & expectation of higher & better things are the gift of God. Only the natural life devoid of hope fails to look beyond the present or the near-future. Our hope is not merely for our own sanctification for we have the greater hope of working with Christ in saving a lost world, even when our own salvation is dubious. Judgment & penitence lead to hope, which leads us on even when our knowledge of God fails us.
Again, the prophet Isaiah: “Awake, awake! Put on your strength O Zion; put on your glorious garments, O Jerusalem, holy city” (52: 1). Let us leave behind our senses dulled by the sleep of sin & awake with a fresh vision of God. “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Is. 2: 5).