I have a friend who rereads Charles Dickens’s classic, “A Christmas Carol,” every Christmas. To watch Ebenezer Scrooge, that “squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” undergo his ghostly conversion, to see again Mrs. Fezziwig’s “vast substantial smile,” to hear Ebenezer’s commitment — “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” — is sheer delight. Dickens has given us a great Christmas story and carol.
Like my friend, every Advent I reread a poem written by the Carmelite poet, Jessica Powers. The poet captures in 12 lines a rich theology given us in this season of grace. Mary, the mother of Jesus and the church, models for us the faith we all need to grow in our call to be disciples of the Lord and stewards of God’s gifts. Mary was called to be the Christ-bearer; we too are called to be “Christophers,” carrying Christ to one another. The poet writes:
I live my Advent in the womb of Mary.
And on one night when a great star swings free
from its high mooring and walks down the sky
to be the dot above the Christus I,
I shall be born of her by blessed grace.
I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,
with hope’s expectance of nativity.
I knew for long she carried me and fed me,
guarded and loved me, though I could not see.
But only now, with inward jubilee,
I come upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:
someone is hidden in this dark with me.
This verse draws our attention to the centrality of Jesus: Advent is our preparation for his coming once again into our lives in new and surprising ways. Jesus comes to us as we meet a homeless person, in a co-worker struggling with a medical issue, in a passage from Scripture or the tender reception of the Eucharist, in the stirrings of our heart and conscience. Our risen Lord continues to make his presence felt in thousands of ways. Our task is to be attentive to his comings and responsive to his requests and demands.
Advent is a season of hope and expectation (“with hope’s expectance of nativity”). A mother awaiting the birth of a child is filled with the hope that the child will be healthy. Hope is that virtue that empowers us to look to the future with confidence. God will provide; we need not fear. But our hope can be threatened by darkness, the darkness of doubt, depression and despair. We must continually ask for the grace of hope during this glorious season.
Advent offers us a “most amazing knowledge.” It is the fact that God dwells with us; it is the fact, as St. Paul reminds us, that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Our triune God has come to dwell with us.
In another poem, Jessica Powers raised a question: “Has no one told you, child, / that God dwells within you?” No longer can we plead ignorance. The Scriptures, the spiritual writers, the prophets and the poets all tell us of God’s advent, of God’s coming in the person of Jesus. Pope Francis shouts out time and time again the good news that God’s love and mercy has been revealed in Jesus Christ.
If we are aware of this fact and live it, we too will experience that “inward jubilee” that Jessica Powers felt.
Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau is pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, author of many books on spirituality and an occasional contributor to The Compass. First in a four-part series.