“In Advent we are studying God’s strange ways, so very different from our own. God does not come to claim his kingdom with imperial might, overwhelming the opposition; he comes in vulnerability, unobtrusively, changing the world in ways we cannot imagine. The angels spend Advent saying ‘Don’t be afraid’, just as they do to the shepherds. It is not their own terrifying presence they are reassuring us about, but the breathtakingly daring action of God. ‘Do not be afraid’, say the Advent angels. ‘God knows what needs to be done. Come to the manger.'” (Jane Williams)
For the past few Advents, I have pulled the same book off the shelf to read: The Coming of God by Maria Boulding. It is, by far, the meatiest book I have ever read for Advent. She goes right to the heart of the reason for this season: longing for God–and that longing being indisputable evidence of the prior longing of God for us.
Here are the opening paragraphs of the book:
If you want God, and long for union with him, yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes. If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that yo have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life. If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things is somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.
Your hope is not a mocking dream: God creates in human hearts a huge desire and a sense of need, because he wants to fill them with the gift of himself. It is because his self-sharing love is there first, forestalling any response or prayer from our side, that such hope can be in us. WE cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for; if we have had no glimpse of a vision, we cannot conduct our lives with vision. And yet we do: there is hope in us, and longing, because grace was there first. God’s longing for us is the spring of ours for him.
So take a moment, look for that desire in your heart however buried it might seem, and simply say, “Come.”
Like foolish folk of old I would not be,
Who had no room that night for Him and thee.
See, Mother Mary, here within my heart
I’ve made a little shrine for Him apart;
Swept it of sin, and cleansed it with all care;
Warmed it with love and scented it with prayer.
So, Mother, when the Christmas anthems start,
Please let me hold your baby–in my heart.
Sr. Maryanna, O.P.
Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine. New York: Marist Press, 1946.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith
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“In our time there is a seeking, an anxious groping and searching for divine things. A great loneliness has come over our time, a loneliness that is found only where godforsakenness reigns. In the midst of our large cities, in the greatest, most frantic activity of untold masses of people, we see the greatest amount of loneliness and homelessness.
“But the longing grows that the time will nonetheless come again when God dwells among people, when God lets himself be found. In the middle of this frantic activity and vociferous extolling of new ways and means stand the one word of Jesus Christ: ‘I am with you. . . ‘ (Matt. 28:20). He does not prescribe ways in which we can reach him. Rather, he says quite simply: “I am with you.”
“None of us lives a life so rushed that it is impossible for us to find even ten minutes a day, in the morning or evening, when we can let everything around us become quiet and submit ourselves completely to eternity, when we can let it speak to us and ask it about ourselves. In that way we an look very deeply within ourselves and quite far beyond ourselves. That might happen by looking at a few Bible verses or, even better, by becoming utterly free and letting our soul make its way to the Father’s house, to its home, in which it will find rest.”
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking:
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you,
and you with me. (Rev. 3.20)
A reflection from Caryll Houselander:
A seed contains all the life and loveliness of the flower, but it contains it in a little hard black pip of a thing which even the glorious sun will not enliven unless it is buried under the earth. There must be a period of gestation before anything can flower.
If only those who suffer would be patient with their earthly humiliations and realize that Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendor of peace. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 36)