“The people in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom, a light has shone” — Isaiah 9:1
Recently, there have been many deep, dark days. Between current events in politics and the Church, senseless acts of violence and terror, not to mention natural disasters, the days hold a heaviness.
When we are surrounded by negative headlines, constantly unveiling new, ungodly falsehoods or heartbreaking losses, it is hard to imagine that life will improve anytime soon. But how new is the doom and gloom? The people the prophet Isaiah spoke to in the above Scripture were living in the midst of dark days as well. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had collapsed, and the fierce Assyrians attacked the very walls of the holy city of Jerusalem. Political intrigue, confusion and unethical ways of living abounded. Where was God in all of this darkness? Where was the Great “I Am,” “He who is?” How can one live faithfully in the midst of such obscurity?
The liturgical season of Advent points us the way. The four weeks of Advent begin a new liturgical year that follows Jesus’ own life. They begin where we all began, in utero. Christ is present there too, in the darkness. There, in the small, quiet, dark space of a mother’s womb, He is there. Growing, week-by-week, nourished by God’s own transforming love, Jesus took upon Himself our very human nature. This means He too, like the ancient Israelites, knew what it feels like to live in utter darkness, hoping for the light of new life. Isaiah calls Him, Emmanuel, “God who is with us.”
He lived there during the preparation, in the growing, for His coming.
This too is what our Advents can look like. Advent can be a time of active waiting:
Of training our hearts to stay the course, to hold tight to what is most true and desire the good
Of cleaning our ears so we can hear the whisper of God’s voice, and of following our Good Shepherd, who leads us back to Him
Of clearing our eyes so we can see His presence, even though He is hidden from sight as an infant in His mother’s womb
Of training our minds to discern truth
Of releasing our hands from the bondage of our will to the freedom of following His will
Granted, much of this will, externally, look like nothing for a while. Months go by before a woman looks pregnant. But it is not the outward appearance that matters. Advent is a time to develop one’s interior life. That is precisely though how the Spirit moves, in the small spaces, in the cracks and through seeds, through those who allow Him to be.
Making room in one’s life for Christ’s coming is first done in the darkness. In acknowledging the difficult, dark days and simultaneously hoping for the full light of eternal happiness, faith can be found. In the midst of our deepest despair, our confusion and cross, the light of the world is still present.
Jesus proclaims, in John’s Gospel, “I am the light of the world.” He is described as “the light, which dispels the darkness.” Think of how the sun rises in the morning: First a small ray appears on the horizon, then the globe brightens the gray and soon the light changes the whole sky. It is this full light, seeing God as He is, face-to-face, that we desire, and that in Advent we begin and continue to hope and long for.
But first comes the preparation, the work of Advent. To be with our beloved requires the small, slow, faithful work of today. Advent asks of us to choose Jesus’ way, moment by moment — to give of ourselves as Mary did to the growing babe in her womb, nourishing selflessly the life of God within us.
The coming of Christ happened one time in history and happens again every Christmas, when He comes anew, asking to be born in the space we offer Him in the stable of our life. Christmas is the most radical, novel idea of God: to send His Son to become one of His own creatures and save them from the darkness of sin. This rescue, begun at Christmas and fulfilled at Easter, is done through the everyday miracle of the birth of a baby.
God chooses the small, the simple and the lowly as His vehicles for the magnificent and the divine. May we, too, prepare ourselves to be humble and quiet, that His Spirit may grow within us.
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