“O come, Desire of Nations, Desire of our longing hearts.”
Advent, “Coming,” the Church’s special celebration of our longing for the presence of Christ, has found itself, or us, in an atmosphere crammed with obstacles to seeking and finding the depths of our desire. Where God promises an abundance of life, waters flowing, protection of the flock, mountains made low and rough terrain smooth, a peace to quiet our frenetic lives, we find ourselves instead pressed to trudge a wholly different terrain. As God promises a smooth highway, a time of flowing waters on the parched Earth, a coming-together in peace for humanity, we’re faced with mountains of obligations, piles of card, stacks of Christmas lists, the necessary bumps and boulders of parties, concerts, plays and pageants, gift exchanges, cookie baking, and ways that are rough with stress instead of flowing with God’s glad tidings. The highway of our God? We are plotting our trips from sale to sale, and driving in circles to find places in parking lots.
We want to make Christmas a joyful experience, rich with gifts of love and care and abundance. So on Thanksgiving weekend, we hearken to the peremptory cry “What are you waiting for?” and instead of John the Baptist, we find at our front door reams of newspaper inserts shouting: Here! Now! At this Door-buster sale! Or Here! Early Birds: The Deal of the Year! Or Here! More for your Money!
We know these are not the answers. Even as we page through the shouting ads, we know their answers are not the words that will save us, even though we can get tangled up in them. We know the real answers run deeper, and bid us pause and consider: For what are we waiting? For what Word do we hearken? For Whom are we preparing? We’re touched in some deep place by the promises of the prophets, the coming times of comfort and peace and fulfillment of God’s dream for humanity. A contemplative time could help, though where to find place or space for a bit of stillness? Another approach: To examine our desires, from the most frivolous to the deepest, and to ask what is true. To ask, perhaps, what is truly needed in contrast to wanted. To ask, what is the one thing necessary? To ask: what is the deepest desire of my heart?
Each of us will answer these questions in different ways. But our guarantee that our hearts are true begins not in our desires, but in God’s Desire. The One who put all human longing into motion, from our first cry for air, has always been the ultimate Desirer, “mad with love for your creatures” as Catherine of Siena writes, a God willing to pursue us and surprise us with divine presence. Advent is made holy by God-in-Christ’s continual coming, in the all-too-ordinary moments, in our compromised cravings, on paths that are far from straight.
Advent is not only our call to make way for God but God’s determination to come to us, with that Divine Joy at leaping into the midst of us, at our best or our worst or our middling-muddling half-hearted trudge through the expectations of the season. Christ’s Incarnation nudges us insistently with Now. Now is God in our midst, now is God’s ever-coming, choosing us to sparkle and to give and to ring out our gratitude even as we attend to our lists.