Chapter Talk – First Sunday of Advent – December 1, 2019, cycle-A
Vigilant and ready…to receive. God comes: “God is underway toward us” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the Word, p.13). Images, words straining to open our hearts to receive what awaits us during this Advent-Christmas season.
“We wait for the fullness. We watch for the completion of the promise. We vigil for the coming of the unimaginable fruition of the seed growing from the beginning in the heart of God” (p.16). With these stirring words of Wendy Wright from her book, The Vigil, we are given a window into the Advent-Christmas season.
In many ways this liturgical time is one of paradox. In the outer world about us it is known as a ‘busy’ time. Yet everything about the deeper meaning of what is waiting us is opposite of being busy and pre-occupied; like Martha in Luke’s gospel, ‘busy with so many things’ (Lk 10:41). Can we be occupied with the many things that demand our attention and still take time to enter into the deep silence, the silence which is the birthing ground for God’s promise of new life, the birth of Christ in the human soul.
With the First Sunday of Advent the horizon of God’s promise and the fulfillment of that promise at Christmas is drawn. We prepare to celebrate the historical birth of Jesus andwe prepare for the Christ life to be born again within us. We need this birth, each one of us, more than ever. It is a blessing to have the liturgical calendar with its daily readings to help us remember and to nurture our spiritual hunger, to point us to the ‘kairos’ moments where God will birth forth so simply and quietly within us and in our midst. Will we be vigilant and ready…to receive?
As I mentioned, the Advent-Christmas season places us at the center of spiritual paradox. In nature we are at the darkest time of the year. There is a deep silence in nature that we do not find in other seasons. And then there is the silent nature of our inner lives. There exists a darkness that opposes life, it can pull us into such depressive feelings as hopelessness, anxiety, meaninglessness. With God’s grace, which is never absent, we refuse to give this darkness power over our lives; we meet it with the anchor of faith and the trust in the ‘promise’ of salvation that is coming. Then there is another kind of ‘darkness’: John of the Cross names it ‘the dark night of the soul’. This dark night is different in that it is the fertile ground for new life. Here is how Meister Eckhart speaks about this darkness: “You cannot do better than to place yourself in darkness and unknowing” (Sermons & Treatises, vol. I, p.41). With our rational faculties and our need to control to be sure of outcomes, this is not an easy invitation to accept. However, Eckhart goes on to say: “But what is this darkness? What do you call it? What is its name? The only name it has is ‘potential receptivity’…” (p.41). To go into the silence, to be still and wait, yes, in darkness and unknowing. Here our faith is tested. We wait in darkness, “empty and bare,” in this climate of ‘potential receptivity’. Surrendering all and patiently waiting…God will not disappoint. In Eckhart’s words: “As for what profits you to pursue this possibility, to keep yourself empty and bare, just following and tracking this darkness and unknowing without turning back – it contains the chance to gain Him who is all things. And the more barren you are of self and unwitting of all things, the nearer you are to Him” (p.42).
Imagine what awaits: each one of us bearing the new Christ life together: with words of hope, with a presence of a true peace, with the birthing of a love that casts out all fear, living a love that forgives and heals, a love that is unconditional, expecting nothing in return, a love that loves because it has been graced with the gift: the gift of God’s beloved Son. God with us, breathing forth a life and a love stronger than the powers of death. Preparing the heart and soul to receive: the gift…the gift that is coming. Yes, He is coming, even in spite of ourselves and our wavering faith! Together we wait, together we hope, together we dwell in the darkness of ‘potential receptivity’.