Second Sunday in Advent

“The law of growth is rest. We must be content in winter to wait patiently through the bleak season in which we experience nothing of the sweetness of the Divine Presence, believing that these seasons when we feel most empty are most filled with a still small Christ-life growing within us.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”Romans 15:4

Youngest Child: What does the second candle mean?

Oldest Person: We light the first Advent candle to remind us of the promise of the prophets that a Messiah would come, bringing peace with justice and love to the world. We light the second candle to remind us, and God, that we are still waiting for the Messiah, patiently and actively like a farmer waiting for the sprouting seed.

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things,” writes the 20th century English mystic Caryll Houselander, “until the habit of Advent returns to us.” The disciplines of Advent are ones that teach us to do small things greatly, to do few things but do them well, to love in particular, rather than in general. This habit of small “successes” generates creativity, a sense of well being, a generosity of spirit rooted in satisfaction. It generates hope.

The Greek word for hope is elpis. In the Greek pantheon of spirits Elpis was the female personification of hope. When Pandora opened the jar given to her by Zeus, the spirits of disorder flew free into the world. Elpis remained in the jar, thus preventing humans from suicidal despair. Hope is depicted as a young woman carrying lilies in her arms.

Christians engaged in social transformation often get discouraged. We are acutely aware of the evils of the world. Sometimes we despair. Sometimes we allow our anger at injustice to be the source of energy in our lives. Sometimes we actually create despair and depression in our lives when we only fight losing battles. It is mandatory that we yoke ourselves to disciplines that generate hope.

Walking on the streets of a Las Vegas suburb, I met an 8-year-old boy out riding his bike. The bike was a clunker and the boy was wearing hand-me-downs. I asked him, “How’s it going?” “Great!” he replied. “I’m in my ninth week of having fun!” I laughed and laughed. Then I took out my date book to mark out my own nine weeks of fun.

Having fun is not the same as having hope, but they are related. Dipping in the deep refreshing pool of joy and contentment is one reminder that the world and everything in it—good and bad—belongs to God. It is our work to live in “day-tight compartments”—receiving our daily bread, doing good, offering hospitality, choosing compassion and forgiveness, serving the “least of these,” singing, praying, and, when night comes, giving our bodies and souls over to sleep.

What habits do you have that generate hope?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Sunday of Advent

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.” Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”—Romans 13:11

Gathered around the Advent wreath, the youngest child asks: Why do we light this candle? The elder answers: We light the first Advent candle to remind us of the promise of the prophets that a Messiah would come, bringing peace with justice and love to the world.

Advent is about knowing what time it is. Though we try to stay spiritually awake, we are human. We fall asleep. We are lulled into the addictive habits and patterns of the world. We begin to act and think and live like unbelievers—like those whose vision is not shaped by God.

There are basic question that every human will eventually ask. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? These are the essential questions of the human spirit. They are the questions that launch the quest into the nature of our mystery. Advent is a time specifically set aside in the liturgical year to accompany those questions.

It will require us to walk in dark places, sometimes without even a flicker of light. We will listen to prophets railing about the end of time—exploding our known and familiar world, our moral and cognitive self-understanding—until we are blown back to our essential elements. Advent will reduce us to atoms, bits of stardust. “We are only syllables of the Perfect Word,” says Caryll Houselander. We will be uncreated. We will be made feminine, until our nothingness becomes a nest.

On the first Sunday of Advent we must get ready to get ready. The alarm clock is about to go off. We are about to be roughly roused. We will be shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves. For this, we must prepare. God invites us on a journey. We are only lacking one piece of information. We have no idea where we are going.

What do you need to do to prepare?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..