Still to Come, Yet Already Here
Talk Given at Our Advent Mini Retreat, 2008
Advent Gathering Hymn:
Here in the world where darkness surrounds us,
We seek a sign that you are among us.
Where is the peace you promised the widow?
Where is the home you promised the orphan?
Where is the road you promised the exile?
Where is the good news preached to the lowly?
Where is the heart whose “yes” is salvation?
Where is the child whose life is our future?
Show us your face, O promise of dawn.
Show us your face, O Lord Jesus come.
Come, O hope of your people.
Come among us and stay.
Lead us in mercy up from the shadows,
Shine in our darkness, be here today.
Come, O hope of your people.
Come among us and stay.
Let’s take a moment to consider what we do every year at this time. For one thing, we complain. We grouse about the fact that we’re “here in the world where darkness surrounds us.” Now, it’s not as if we wring our hands every moment of every day. After all, we’re quick to let God know that we think it’s wonderful to be alive. We regularly thank God for our lives and the lives of those we love; and yet there’s something we call darkness – something that isn’t so wonderful and we let God know what we think about that as well. We’re happy, and yet we’re not happy.
Another thing we do is to get outraged. Life simply isn’t fair and the injustices of life don’t sit well with us. When we pray, or when we sing as we just did, our minds are drawn to the less fortunate – the ones who’ve gotten the short end of the stick: the poor, the bereaved, the immigrant, the voiceless – we remind ourselves that other people have gotten a raw deal but boy oh boy do we remember the injustices we’ve had to endure. We’re positively obsessed with a longing to right wrongs. For most of us the very foundation of our belief in God is the hope that, at the end of it all, everyone will get what she or he deserves. God is transcendently just, but even so, we’re able to notice a few ‘rough edges’ in the here-and-now.
We Christians have been observing Advent in our liturgy for more than sixteen hundred years. Every year we arouse a sense of anticipation in ourselves, every Christmas we rejoice at our Emmanuel – our assurance that God is with us, and then, when the next year rolls around we do it all over again. What is it with us Christians? Are we like the mythical Sisyphus, doomed to repeat the same effort again and again without ever reaching a conclusion? “Come, O hope of your people. Come among us and stay.” We know exactly what we want; but do we ever really get it?
Advent can be looked at from two perspectives. On the cosmic level, it’s every injury ever suffered by anyone bound up by the hope that, somehow or another, the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled. The wasteland will become a straight highway for our God, every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain and the rough country a broad valley. (Is 40, 3-4) Now that’s what we’re talking about! Big changes, big improvements. The things that that would grab anyone’s attention and make them stand up and take notice.
There’s another way we look at Advent, though, and that’s as a short passage of time within the life of one person. It’s that nine month period in Mary’s life between the visit from Gabriel and the baby in the manger. God has done us all a big favor by transforming the immensity of humankind’s complaint, and outrage, and urgency and turning it into something we can wrap our heads around: one simple woman simply waiting for her son to be born.
We just sang, ‘Where is the heart whose “yes” is salvation?’ but we know exactly where that heart is. It’s in the breast of Our Blessed Mother. We know the very shape of that ‘yes’ as well: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Lk 1, 38) During the time this human-sized advent unfolded within the context of history, the Son of God was entirely dependent upon Mary. He was with her only because she agreed to be with him; she had given the “yes” that is our salvation.
During this ‘little advent’, it was she who was saying “Come”. She already knew the presence of Jesus but she was waiting for him to arrive; waiting for him to arrive even though he was already there with her. The body and the blood of Christ which we celebrate every time we go to Mass was right inside her; and yet she was – as we put it – expecting his arrival. She was already a Christ bearer and yet her heart was crying out “Show us your face”.
This is the mystery of Advent. Jesus is with me, but I am waiting for him to arrive.
I hope that during this time of waiting, you will take a moment to reflect upon that ‘yes’ of salvation that Mary gave. Perhaps, by reflecting on that ‘yes’, you will be able to echo it as well. After all, it is now we who are the Christ bearers. In a real way, he is entirely dependent upon us because we are the ones who continue his work of building the kingdom of God. The fact that we say ‘yes’ to Jesus is proof that he is already here with us.
Where is the peace promised the widow? That peace depends on our willingness to console and support. Where is the home promised the orphan? It’s a home rooted in our determination to be caring and responsive to those whose lives are torn apart by tragedy. Where is the road for the exile? Well, do we care about the foreigner in our midst? The dependence we have on Jesus for our salvation is matched by the trust he puts in us to expand our circle of concern to include those we would otherwise ignore. Where is the good news preached to the lowly? The core of that good news is our ‘yes’ to discipleship.
We wait to see the face of Jesus and at the same time he lives in our very selves because he is expressed in every act of charity we make to those around us. How do we know that our waiting will have a happy conclusion? We know because as we wait for him he is already here. Jesus is the child whose life is our future. Let’s make his life our present and our past as well.
Through the messy reality of our complaining, our outrage and our urgency we certainly do seek a sign, Lord Jesus that you are among us. What sort of sign will give us satisfaction? There is no sign more palpable or more credible than our own ‘yes’ to the daily challenges of love that God gives us to meet. It is that ‘yes’ that readies us to see the face of our God.