A few weeks ago, talking of Celtic Spirituality, I quoted a favorite prayer by an Irish poet who asks Christ to... “Keep our eyes heavenward and our pity fresh lest we grow hard,” and this season, this Advent moving us to the birth of Jesus, works well for all that. Advent is a stretching time; the lessons we hear in this season, the voices of the prophets, apocalyptic visions, mixtures of mystery and promise, all work to “keep our eyes heavenward and our pity fresh” as we wait for the wondrous child who comes to make our world newborn, stretching us out to Christmas and beyond into a new world of relationship with God in the life of Christ.
The season of Advent begins, and the seasons of the whole church year provide, a way to travel with Christ and the church into the very height and breadth and depth of what it means to be a human being in company with God. For our own journey, learning to live in the light of God’s love, which we see in the birth and growth, life, the teaching and healing, the death and resurrection of Jesus; all this can be joined in the church’s journey from Advent through Christmas to Epiphany, from Lent to Good Friday through Easter and on to Pentecost.
We sing, “Advent tells us Christ is near,” and our own Advent can come with a yearning to be closer of God, with an surprising urge to take ourselves more seriously, to an awareness that God is closer to us than we know, that God has gifted us (and this needs to be carefully said) with a kind of personal presence, a Christmas present in our souls. So that the birth of Jesus, might mean taking the chance that in the very centre of each of us there is a very specific and unique aspect of God’s love and focus and presence to be found, to be born. And we receive this gift as we accept the unique configuration of talents and trials and likes, dislikes, of who we are and who we are to be, in sharing the gifts of our own unique calling and identity.
So if each one of us carries a present from God, then letting God love the world through our unique love takes us to the Epiphany, the place where God’s light shines through, shows through, the ministry of our life: this means being where we are, living where we are, loving life as we can: simply sharing the journey wholeheartedly, telling our good news in God’s good light.
That good news means hard work, because every light throws a shadow; and to walk that walk, to take on Jesus’ truth (which is the truth about our own destiny, our own true face as well as the ultimate truth, the deepest face of our neighbor), we have to will to let God’s bright light shine on the darker aspects of our own life and the life of the world around us. We have to learn to look at all things - in us and around us - with two questions: What is this to love? Where does this live in truth? And some things simply don’t live in love or truth. They fade out and burn away in that bright light, as they should, because they aren’t really real. So sometimes our growing “enlightenment,” our willing participation to live in God’s light and truth, can burn, can hurt like hell.
I remember walking though a park in San Francisco some years ago and seeing a sign on a fence built to keep people from walking across a newly seeded hillside. It said, "Short Cuts Cause Erosion!" I take that as a four-word definition of sin: a history of people taking shortcuts across other peoples lives, across geography, history, politics, sexuality, ethics, economics and religion too. So to decide not to take shortcuts in living life with Jesus and his friends means wrestling with whatever problems, predicaments, manifestations of evil, "demons", come your way; whether from your own history or that of your people, your culture. This is often the next stop on the journey, the desert of Lent, not an easy place to be.
For Lent is the times when the sky gets dark and the shadows go long, a place where we can learn to meet and treat these demons and pains and questions as ways to God. Surprisingly often, even as if they were questions from God, ways and places that can lead us to live closer to the almighty love. It is not an easy road, honoring and caring for the pain of the world, in ourselves and in others, by witnessing the places where God’s love and God’s beloved are crucified, damaged, done to death to this very day. It takes effort and time, and it can hurt terribly - it made Jesus weep – for it takes us inevitably to the middle of Good Friday, the day when hope will die.
But by the gift of God and san always surprising grace we live through that Good Friday, that death-time, into a new certainty of life, an experience of Easter that somehow transcends death, comes from beyond ourselves, opens us into a continuing and deeper participation in God’s creativity, where we can sharpen up both our questions and our hope, can live larger into the answers.
So living life in the light of the resurrection calls for a new kind of language of passion and understanding, calls us to learn new words for God’s love and mercy, majesty and intimacy, calls us to be a new word for God, speaking to people and in places where that word might not otherwise be heard. And in that place we can come to our own Pentecost, where God’s spirit speaks loud in the witness of our daily lives. It will not always last, but we will remember.
But how can we live with life this large? Partly, I think, in mystery, through prayer, and as a willing part of a living community that is committed to share the journey over the years, through numerous seasons of bloom and drought, from Advent through Advent and Easter to Easter; a community where we can tell the stories, say the prayers, eat and drink in light of God’s recreation in the world as companions, “bread-sharers;” taking it one moment at a time with very small steps. And with a seasonal, but always growing hope that the end of the day, the end of the journey, the end of life itself, may be found in love.
John the Baptist, The Apostle Paul and Timothy, this coming Christ; all bright lights, bright stars that cross the skies, keeping our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, giving us good news that comes from a long way away, good news that will come very close.
Listen to Paul’s writings:
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ
Advent is here; a time to turn around to be renewed in hope, that we may be awake and alert, watching, in the joyful task of responding to the love of God which we come to know in the whole life of Christ. It is time to begin again.