Advent: Comfort My People

“The choice is between the mystery and the absurd.
To embrace the mystery is to discover the real.”
Cardinal Hume

Have you ever sat on a rock by the ocean and watched a seagull soar through the air, going higher and higher, quickening its flight, away beyond your seeing into another world where you could not go?

Have you ever heard someone speak of the beauty of God, of God’s lovableness, of God’s power, which creates and fashions all that is, but it eluded you? Has your mind ever tried to contemplate another reality, one that this world mirrors, but not adequately?

Someday, we will see God as God is, pure beauty, perfect loveliness and all-powerful. We long for that day.

St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

It is this longing, this restlessness that Advent is all about.

For generations, we have been restless for God. We have longed for God, longed for Advent’s dream of peace. This Advent particularly, we long for the peace that can only come from God.

Look down from heaven and regard us
from your holy and glorious palace!
Where is your zealous care and your might,
your surge of pity and your mercy?
O Lord, hold not back,
for you are our father.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
As when brushwood is set ablaze,
or fire makes the water boil!
Thus your name would be made known to your enemies
and the nations would tremble before you,
While you wrought awesome deeds we could
not hope for.

Advent is all about longing, about yearning for God about

. . . longing for new life.

. . . longing to be saved.

. . . longing for peace.

Comfort, comfort my people,
Says your God
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
And cry to her
That her warfare is ended
That her iniquity is pardoned.

A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

One of the great longings we all share are for new life, for rebirth, for a fresh start. The ancient Israelites dreamt of the coming of the Messiah for centuries. The familiar story of the Annunciation, of that moment when the great dream of the Israelites came true, tells us a lot about the way new life comes. (Luke 1:26-38)

  • The first thing to note is that the new life promised by God is a free gift. Many Jewish people of Jesus time believed that the Messiah would come only when the people were perfect, when every law was scrupulously obeyed. Ironically, Jesus was born at one of the worst times in Jewish history. At a time when they felt least deserving of God’s gift.
  • The second point to note is that new life comes in an unexpected way. Isaiah prophesied that a shoot would sprout from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was King David’s father. The stump of Jesse is a symbol for the House of David. Israel’s royal family had been wiped out. The probability of a comeback for this family was near zero. In this particular story, which is the fulfillment of the prophecy, a virgin is told that she will give birth to a child. Virgins don’t usually give birth. They aren’t supposed to.
  • Finally, Mary has a choice. God does not force himself or the gift of new life on her.

Perhaps this Advent season you don’t feel particularly deserving of God’s gift of new life. Maybe you just feel like the stump of Jesse, all dried up and hopeless. The circumstances of our lives can make us feel that way. They can leave us feeling discouraged and isolated, even from God. This story from Luke asks us not to focus on our own worthiness or to limit ourselves to our own narrow definitions of what is possible. Instead it asks, “Are you open to the possibility?”

Are we able today to hear such spine-tingling sounds? Can we bear the joy that God wants to share with us? Do we see that hope does not die but only that our imaginations fail? Do we recognize that our human wish for new life is already being answered?

– Sister Mary Ann Strain, C.P.