Reflection on the First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 Luke 21:25-36
Last Sunday, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Mary Swain pointed out to us that the Feast of Christ the King is as much a beginning as an ending. We can say something similar about this Sunday, for our readings are as much about endings as beginnings. Apocalyptic images frame the beginnings and endings we hear from the Prophet Jeremiah and the Evangelist Luke. They mirror the dramatic, emotional scale of the endings and beginnings that stir our hearts.
In my meditations for this homily, I sat for quite a while with the words “ending” and “beginning.” I experienced a wide, deep range of emotions with those words, a sweep of thought-feelings that seemed to encompass, not just the spiritual sense of the Church season, but something central to my present life.
“Ending” brought thought-feelings of rest, relief, completion, fullness, finishing, arriving, closing, stopping, halting; and also, reluctant, unready, sudden, unwelcome, diminished, incomplete, loss, anger, grief.
“Beginning” brought thought-feelings of anticipation, new, fresh, strong, able, confident, forward, growth, progress; along with tentative, unready, sudden, unknown, uncertain, foggy, unwelcome, confusion, fear and anger.
I recommend this meditative exploration as a way to feel deeply the meaning of Advent. When I spent time with “ending” and “beginning,” I found between the two another thought-feeling, what I believe is the heart of the season: longing.
Neither the promise of beginning nor the satisfaction of ending quite settles my present longing, which seems to live in me on a different level. In fact, both endings and beginnings seem to provoke longing, intensifying it instead of resolving it.
Both endings and beginnings, whether very small or life-changing, upset our equilibrium and unsettle our hearts. If we can live into the disruptions, let be in trust, both endings and beginnings can shake loose our deepest longings for something neither can deliver. We can become aware of that which we had looked for in them but which is both beyond and deeply within ourselves, and entirely about the present.
Almost as an afterthought, I gave some time in my meditation to Paul’s epistle and found in it a note of strength, a help as we live into the disruptions of endings and beginnings. Paul says, “May God increase your love for one another, to strengthen your hearts.” Love: great love, small love; familial love, communal love and friendship; affection, kindness, gentleness, civility, even reluctant, grudging love. Every loving way we touch one another gives an essential strength that helps us trust our deepest longings while beginnings and endings sweep over us.
Between today’s beginning of Advent and its ending at Christmas, may we unwrap the gift of this season, wholehearted longing.