Reflection on the Third Sunday of Advent
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Let’s begin by remembering the word Advent: 1) ” – ad venir,” a word suggesting awaiting, anticipating, something about to happen, expectation or surprise. “- Be ready,” and the word suggests that it may be soon. Be ready. “Ad – venir” — something coming, and here we are using this phrase in reference to God: Are we, are you — here today, right now — are you waiting for God? What are we, collectively, waiting for?
Well, it’s true that God IS right here, holding you and me in being, holding the whole creation in being — in that sense, God is already here. So what are we WAITING for — right now? A special coming?
The word “Advent” suggests anticipation, and invites a sense of opening: attentiveness, of making space for something, readying for something unknown, mysterious, surprise! Let’s ask do we look for God’s coming right now, at this moment in our history, estranged as we are by coronavirus? How might God be coming here, to planet Earth, to us — NOW? What does Advent mean to us?
In today’s readings, we are introduced, first of all, to John the Baptist. Poor John. Jesus’ cousin? Notice that when the crowd asks him to identify himself, he first denies any role of importance: “l am not …”
“Then who are you?”
“l am a voice crying in the wilderness.” Think of it: helpless, discarded, dismissed, no one caring or even listening. What sense of urgency — to continue in spite of no response! John can’t not cry out — his hope for his people, knowing this is what they have been longing for, but can’t hear. A voice, crying in the wilderness: What a humble, courageous role. He doesn’t know what it is — only that it’s here, now. GET READY! A voice crying in the wilderness: Imagine how deep the hope must be to keep trying to open hearts. John the Baptist: Think what he must have been feeling — “Hope is the one flame that will pierce the eternal shadows.” Think what hope John was having to sustain.
And what is that longing deep within us, that keeps us seeking, searching, sensing an urgent need — when we see coronavirus, we see wars, starvation, poverty, prejudice, inexcusable human stupidity. Why is it that our hearts are touched? Why do we feel ourselves drawn to help? What is it that draws us — pulls us — what IS that longing? “Love-Longing” — the word suggests stretching out, going forward, expanding — something we can’t explain pulling us forward. Sometimes we can sense that we are all connected, and somehow responsible We’re being created right now, held in oneness, one whole creation happening right now.
But we see our planet scarred, we see uncontrollable fires burning up forests and lands and living creatures, we see floods and hurricanes and disaster, people killing each other. Have we failed mother Earth, ignoring how delicately we are bonded with the whole?
And where is our God hiding in and through it all? How is our God trying to reach us, speaking to us now?
“Ad-vent”: Come. Let’s turn to our hearts, to the yearning of our hearts, recognizing that all that we long for lies in the hands of our creating God. Let’s be aware that our role, our vocation places us humans in the role of longing — it’s the energy of longing that stirs us to respond, to imagine what we might do — the energy that will nudge, sometimes pressure us — point out to us this is what your heart and your consciousness and your imagination are all pointing to you to do: to long for justice, for peace, for friendship, for connection and communion — and love. And to act. Our hearts are made to carry hope.
It is our role to draw our human energy and shape it into reality. We call it hope, or creativity. Hope is our human role, to gather our human energy, drawing it forward. Hope is what will draw our energies into action.
What if there is an unfolding happening in this time of vicious coronavirus? What if there is a new awareness to be born out of this clash of our careless human living habits, our thoughtless disregard for the needs of the creation that surrounds us with food and with beauty and goodness? Might there be an unfolding of a new consciousness, a consciousness of forward-looking hope? And that hope is now expressing itself in a sense of longing that is as yet unidentified, unfocused, unrealized by our busy, distracted energies?’ What do we long for?
Let’s let our hearts recognize this longing, this hope: It is the promise or evidence of God’s Advent, a sign of the presence of the empowering of Jesus who comes to save us. Maybe right now there might be happening an un-folding, a new hope of a new vision to be arising from within the ruinous dismantling of our Earth as it appears to us now. Might our longing be witness to the nearness of an opening to something new — to a new awareness, a new envisioning of how our God continues to draw us forward into the divine presence? There is a deep and ever-present Source of life and goodness that we can always rely upon, sustaining and renewing us in everlasting, ever-present love. We have learned as an evolutionary fact that crises very often precede transformation — that nature forms whole new systems by re-organizing systems that have failed.
The longing is ever-present in our hearts — we name it hope. It summons us to remember that our God has not left us orphans. Rather than speaking to us of absence, those longings ARE THE SIGN that our God has not left us alone, that the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus is alive and present in our midst, creating and re-creating in us, in ways we cannot perceive.
In her beautiful poem “Beginners” Denise Levertov says, “So much is unfolding that must Complete its gesture. So much is in bud.”
We cannot know the outcome of these unusual, dangerous times that we are living today. But who knows what might be in bud? Let’s pay attention to the “love-longing” that fills our minds and our hearts in this Advent time of waiting, unfolding. What we do know is that these days are calling us to trust in the God who has brought us here to this time, and who is with us always. It is this God we long for, and our longing is our trust. Teilhard de Chardin left us with a lovely prayer: “Above all,” he said, “trust the slow work of God. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
“Trust the slow work of God.” It is the longing in our hearts.