Advent Reflections- Anguished Seriousness
December 8, 2015
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom … Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’ Here is your God.” (Isaiah 35:1, 4)
During this month of December many of us fall back into days of childhood, of wonder, of laughter, and of familiar stories and traditions. We lose ourselves in the beauty of decorations and lights, and in pictures of calm, quiet winter scenes. I will be the first to admit that I am one of those who is moved by memories of such things that are part of the Christmases of my childhood, and of our daughters. It is easy, I suppose, to get caught up in all of the trappings of this season and lose sight of Advent as a season of preparation – not the decorating, present-wrapping, card-sending, food-cooking kind of preparations, but rather of “let every heart prepare him room.”
Recent events in Paris and San Bernardino and on too many city streets have turned our Advent preparations into concerns and fears, and forced us to wonder about the message of hope that is at the heart of the season. The prophets anticipate the day when God would intervene and restore barren land and empty lives. It is that word to which I return again and again in the darkness that seems to grip so much of this world. The birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Word become flesh, is a sign that the darkness will not overcome God’s light. The season of Advent moves us from uncertainty and fear to the hope that is ours in Christ. Even in the midst of dark, tragic events look for that light, that hope.
In my many week-long spiritual retreats to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky I have come to find rich deep insights in the writings of Thomas Merton. In 1963 he wrote an Advent reflection entitled “Advent: Hope or Delusion?” I commend it to you, but here I want to quote a few lines that seem quite relevant to and for our own time. Merton invites us to remember the “anguished seriousness of Advent,” a reminder that the season moves us toward “more than a charming infant smiling … in the straw.”
Merton: “…the Church in preparing us for the birth of a ‘great prophet,’ a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer … In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies … The fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed; indeed all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.”
While moving through all of our traditions and Christmas-keeping, let us be renewed in our hope through the “anguished seriousness of Advent.” There is coming a time when the wilderness, the dry land, the desert spaces, and the rough places will all be renewed and refreshed. We maintain that hope which does not disappoint and which calms fearful hearts.
“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.”Bishop Larry Goodpaster is the Resident Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church