2016 - Advent Reflection: Stay Awake!
Reflection by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC
We have just entered a very powerful four weeks as a Church–the season of Advent. I say powerful because the season of Advent taps into one of our deepest experiences as a human being–the experience of longing. The experience of yearning. The experience of desire–our heart’s deepest desire.
Deep, deep in the heart of Judeo-Christian spirituality is the recognition that we as human beings have a deep emptiness at the center of our being. And that emptiness, naturally, longs to find completion, longs for fulfillment. And even more, as writers from St. Augustine to Dorothy Day have eloquently expressed, that longing for completion is the central force of our entire being.
All our wants, all our needs–the need for nourishment, the need for companionship, the need to love and to be loved, the need for healing, the need for joy–all of these longings are expressions of that vacuum in the very core of our being, seeking for its fulfillment.
The Book of Genesis, our foundational story, begins with the claim that, once upon a time, we had lives of utter contentment, in the Garden of Eden. But a snake and an apple later, and it was gone. We were cast out of our home. And ever since then, we have lived with a gnawing desire to return. This, the Scriptures bequeath to us, is the foundation metaphor of our existence.
Later, Abraham, too–our Father in Faith–is lured away from his home, as God calls him to wander after a dream called the “Promised Land.” Moses and the people wander for forty years in the desert, longing for this Land. All the Hebrew characters we will hear from in these next four weeks–Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Judith, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Daniel–all of them, we can feel viscerally through their words, are desperately longing for fulfillment, and for the Messiah who will deliver it.
This is why the Season of Advent is such a powerful season for us. And why the first readings of Advent are such discomforting ones. For Advent is a season where we allow our deepest longing, our core incompleteness to be completely exposed.
So this first week of Advent, the Church warns against allowing that desire for wholeness to get confused with longings of lesser goods–of trying to fill the God-shaped whole at the center of being with things that will inevitably be too small. That is why the first words of Jesus that the Church shares with us for Advent are: “In the days of Noah, before the flood, everyone was eating and drinking, and then the flood came and carried them away.”
Jesus is not so much trying to scare us with some impending cataclysm. He’s giving us counsel: Don’t get too caught up in fulfilling all your temporary desires–eating and drinking and all your other pleasures. They’re fine, but they’re merely a sign of something much deeper. The desire to be totally fulfilled, to be united with God.
So this is the message of Advent: “Stay awake! Be alert! Because the fulfillment of your deepest desire is on His way. At an hour we do not know, the Son of God will come!”
Advent is the season of our deepest longing. Let us enter it with the God-sized expectancy that is at the core of our hearts.