In the darkness of winter a light breaks forth: Jesus

By Bishop Robert Morneau | For The Compass | November 20, 2013

1338advent_web_intro2Advent series, part I

(Part II: “What we can learn from Christmas plants” by Deacon Jim Trzinski.)

(Part III: “Advent stars continue to shine in dark winter sky” by Sr. Ann Rehrauer.)

(Part IV: “Advent: From waiting and watching to rejoicing” by Bishop Robert Banks.)

(Part V: “Advent’s darkness gives way to light of Christ” by Sr. Ann Rehrauer.)

Just as Lent is a season of preparation to celebrate the great Easter mystery, so too is Advent a season of preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In the darkness of winter a light breaks forth: Jesus, the Light of the world. In the darkness of Good Friday, the world waits, with hope for life to conquer death. Easter proves the validity of that hope.

Light and darkness, life and death! Great mysteries that test the human spirit. Once again we are given four weeks to prepare our minds and hearts to welcome the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Life, our savior and redeemer. We do that by living to the full the four W’s of Advent: watching, waiting, wondering and welcoming. These dispositions help us to embrace the darkness, knowing in faith that the Lord is near.

WATCHING! One of the best descriptions I heard about spirituality is “JUST STAY AWAKE!” Be alert! Be watchful! Pay attention! Easier said than done because all of us, without exception, suffers from some degree of attention deficit disorder. We miss so much of life: the song of birds, the glance of love, the inner woundedness of a friend. And, yes, the coming of God into our lives. During Advent, God does come in word and sacrament, in the community and movements of our heart. Our response might be praise and thanksgiving, sorrow or petition. Advent is a season of watchful prayer. It is prayer that helps to scatter our winter darkness.

WAITING! Back in 1953, Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, “Waiting for Godot,” was first performed. The two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait in vain for the arrival of “someone.” Our waiting for God is not absurd; God is with us on our long, perilous journey. True, at times it seems as if God is absent; true, sometimes we grow impatient with our lack of spiritual consolation. Yet God is there, often disguised in the cry of the poor, the stranger who enters our life, the celebration of an anniversary. The waiting of Advent is reciprocal: God waits for us to show up for prayer as much as we wait for God to make the divine presence felt. It is waiting in hope that dawn brings us the light of joy and peace.

WONDERING! Respect for life is important. Perhaps more is asked of us: reverence and wonder, a sense of awe. Moses stood on holy ground before the burning bush that was not consumed. We stand on holy ground as we walk on God’s good earth, as we rejoice in the birth of a baby, as we celebrate in marriage the grace of human love. Wonder upon wonder. Our call is to take off our sandals and go barefoot through the mystery of creation for, as Gerard Manley Hopkins keeps reminding us: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” And later in the sonnet: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Even in the darkness that freshness is present when the light of faith illumines our way.

WELCOMING! Zacchaeus, the tax collector from Jericho, climbed a sycamore tree to watch (wait, wonder) as Jesus passed by. Suddenly Jesus stopped, looked up, and exclaimed: “Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today” (LK 19:5b). We know the rest of the story. Zacchaeus did hurry down and WELCOME Jesus into his house. Every day of Advent Jesus says to you and me: “I mean to stay in your soul.” The question is: Is there room in the inn? Is there room in our lives for the divine guest to come and stay? The question is one of hospitality; the question is one of destiny. Zacchaeus, in climbing down from the sycamore tree, entered the world of light and left the darkness of sin behind.

Maybe there is a fifth W that underlies the other four of watching, waiting, wondering and welcoming. The fifth W is “WHY.” Advent has an answer. The reason why we watch and wait, wonder and welcome is that God — a God of light and love and life — is forever pursuing us. Our vocation is to say “yes” to his call to be children of light as Mary said “yes” to bringing divine light into the world.

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau is author of “Notes of Thanksgiving: Letters to  My Spiritual Teachers” (New City Press, 2013).

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