Compiled by Brittany Callendar & Emily Ling
It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or otherwise, as a return to our own innocence and our own infancy. Advent should remind us that the “King Who is to Come” is more than a charming infant smiling (or if you prefer a dolorous spirituality, weeping) in the straw. There is certainly nothing wrong with the traditional family jours of Christmas, nor need we be ashamed to find ourselves still able to anticipate them without too much ambivalence. After all, that in itself is no mean feat. But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man, of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies.
Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent… In our time, what is lacking is not so much the courage to ask this question as the courage to expect an answer…
We may at times be able to show the world Christ in moments when all can clearly discern in history, some confirmation of the Christian message. But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope. Thomas Merton, Advent: Hope or Delusion
The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. Dietrich Bonhoffer
In a few days Advent starts. To us who use our missals every day it is the beginning of the new year. It always makes me happy – beginnings – the opportunity constantly to make fresh starts. Dorothy Day
A voice of one who cries: Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord [clear away the obstacles]; make straight and smooth in the desert a highway for our God! Isaiah 40:3
Come away, O human child!
to the waters and the wild
with a faery, hand in hand,
for the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand...
W. B. Yeats
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining…”
I will give you the treasures of darkness, and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. Isaiah 45:3
For now, it is enough to say that “darkness” is shorthand for anything that scares me—that I want no part of—either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. The absence of God is in there, along with the fear of dementia and the loss of those nearest and dearest to me. So is the melting of polar ice caps, the suffering of children, and the nagging question of what it will feel like to die. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love—if I could just find the right night-lights to leave on. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light. Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Hope is what this community must do because it is God’s community invited to be in God’s pilgrimage...
Of course prophetic hope easily lends itself to distortion. It can be made so grandiose that it does not touch reality; it can be trivialized so that it does not impact reality; it can be “bread and circuses” so that it only supports and abets the general despair. But a prophet has another purpose in bringing hope to public expression, and that is to return the community to its single referent, the sovereign faithfulness of God. It is only that return that enables a rejection of the closed world of royal definition. Only a move from a managed world to a world of spoken and heard faithfulness permits hope. It is that overriding focus that places Israel in a new situation and that reshapes exile, not as an external fate but as the place where hope can most amazingly appear…
It is likely that the only measure of faithfulness is that hope always comes after grief and that the speaker of this public expression must know and be a part of the anguish that permits hope. Hope expressed without knowledge of and participation in grief is likely to be false hope that does not reach despair. Thus, it is precisely those who know death most painfully who can speak hope most vigorously. Walter Brueggeman, The Prophetic Imagination
‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ...
a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. Isaiah 11:1
Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, ‘Just wait.’ Words like that seem to push us into passivity.
But there is none of this passivity in scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret. The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment. Henri Nouwen
I believe that this life is not all; neither the beginning nor the end. I believe while I tremble; I trust while I weep. Charlotte Bronte, Villette
I believe that the Bible as a whole tends toward a tenacious but severely chastened hope. Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture, & Agriculture
And you shall know [with an acquaintance and understanding based on and grounded in personal experience] that I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for, and expect Me. Isaiah 49:23
If to myself – “God sometimes interferes” –
I said, my faith at once would be struck blind.
I see him all in all, the lifting mind,
Or nowhere in the vacant miles and years.
A love he is that watches and that hears,
Or but a mist that fumes from minds of men,
Whose fear and hope reach out beyond their ken.
When I no more can stir my soul to move,
And life is but the ashes of a fire;
When I can but remember that my heart
Once used to live and love, long and aspire, --
Oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art;
Be thou the calling, before all answering love,
And in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.
George MacDonald, The Diary of an Old Soul
As midnight inevitably came and went without the horsemen of the apocalypse making an appearance, Clara surprised herself by falling into a melancholy. For ridding herself of faith is like boiling seawater to retrieve salt—something is gained but something is lost. Though her friends clapped her on the back and congratulated her for exorcising those fervid dreams of perdition and redemption, Clara quietly mourned the warmer touch she had waited for these 19 years, the all-enveloping bear hug of the Savior, the One who was Alpha and Omega, both the beginning and the end; the man who was meant to take her away from all this, from the listless reality of life in a ground-floor flat in Lambeth. What now for Clara?...She still wished for a savior. She still wished for a man to whisk her away, to choose her above others so that she might 'walk in white with Him; for she was worthy.' Revelation 3:4 Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is not mere neurotic fantasy, but the truest index of our real situation. C.S. Lewis
Hope is proportionate to detachment. It brings our souls into the state of the most perfect detachment. In doing so, it restores all values by setting them in their right order. Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them. It shows us that we have something to work for, and teaches us how to work for it. Without hope, our faith gives us only an acquaintance with God. Without love and hope, faith only knows Him as a stranger. For hope casts us into the arms of His mercy and of His providence. If we hope in Him, we will not only come to know that He is merciful but we will experience His mercy in our own lives. Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island