Advent Longing

Advent is a time of waiting. The Advent wreath is a reminder of that waiting. For children and maybe even for some adults it is waiting for Christmas. Only two weeks left; only 19 shopping days left…

While the Advent season is about watching and waiting, I believe that the word waiting can often be understood as a passive act, like when my father would take my mother shopping and would wait in the car for what seemed like endless hours until she returned. Advent is not about passive waiting. Rather, I think Advent is best understood more accurately as a time of “longing.”

The truth is we are not complete. And we will never be complete until we are completely one with the loving God who created us. There is a part of us that knows this but we often don’t give it much attention. Advent calls us to remember that and to long for that completion. As our scripture readings today suggest we are called to eagerly “await a new heavens and a new earth.” We are called to long for that day when “every valley shall be filled in and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” The day when the glory of the Lord will be revealed; when kindness and truth shall meet, and justice and peace shall kiss.

In our Gospel today we are reminded that the people of Israel and John the Baptist not only waited for a Messiah they longed for a messiah. John proclaiming that “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

We are called during Advent to recognize our incompleteness and to long for unity with God by recognizing those things (those sins) that keep us separated from God. In our second reading, St. Peter in speaking about  the coming of the day of God says, “the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” This reminded me of a principle in chemistry: that sometimes two elements will simply lie side by side inside a test-tube and not unite until sufficient heat is applied so as to bring them to a high enough temperature where unity can take place. That heat that can unite us to the Lord is the fire of his love and mercy. The Season of Advent is a time for us to open our hearts to Christ so as to become more united to him.

Advent is about getting in touch with our longing. It’s about letting our yearnings raise our psychic temperatures so that we are pushed to eventually let down our guard, hope in new ways, and risk intimacy with God and others.

St. John of the Cross suggests that intimacy with God and with each other will only take place, when we reach a certain kindling temperature. For too much of our lives, he suggests, we lie around as damp, green logs inside the fire of love, waiting to come to flame but never bursting into flame because of our dampness. Before we can burst into flame, we must first dry out and come to kindling temperature. We do that by first sizzling for a long time in the flames, as does a damp log inside a fire, so as to dry out.

John of the Cross describes this experience of “sizzling” as enduring the pain of loneliness, restlessness, disquiet, anxiety, frustration, and unrequited desire. In the torment of incompleteness our psychic temperature rises so that eventually we come to kindling temperature and, there, we finally open ourselves to union in new ways.

I think however, St. Augustine said it best, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

May God’s grace in this Eucharist help us during this Advent season to so long for the One who loves us like no other, so as to recognize those things that keep us from being closer to God.

May the struggles we face in life serve to remind us that nothing in this life can ever bring total happiness, (although television commercials will try to tell you different). Such completeness can only be found in unity with Him as we long for that day when all will be one…all will be complete according to his promise.

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