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Over the next few months the Prairie Messenger will occasonally feature writing from past contributors and editors. The following editorial by Andrew Britz, OSB, is titled “Advent dares us to dream,” and was originally published in the Nov. 29, 2000, issue of the PM. It is also included in his book Rule of Faith: as we worship, so we believe, so we live.
Advent is a time of longing, longing for the kingdom made present in Jesus Christ.
It is not a time to pretend that Jesus has not yet come. We do not long for someone whom we do not know. It is precisely because we have already come to know and cherish Jesus as our Lord and Saviour that we can truly long for his presence.
God with wisdom divine made us a mystery unto ourselves. Every time we come to a new level of self-awareness we also awaken to the fact that there is much more about ourselves that we do not know.
And so, even our self-acceptance becomes an act of faith in the God who created us. So it is not just Jesus whom we now know only in faith and hope. Advent tells us not to be afraid to hope for the kingdom, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of self-fulfilment, a kingdom in which the church itself is known not so much for its propensity to point out sin but, rather, for its marvellous ability to reveal to us that goodness made obvious in Jesus Christ.
Advent flies in the face of 11:00 news broadcasts. What is good in our world is not news. Almost by definition news has become “bad news.” By wallowing in the bad, we can justify that weakest of human responses — cynicism.
Cynicism is beguiling. Before we know it, our cynicism has not only involved the world — especially, these days, the world of politics — but also has come to include our views about ourselves, our church, our God.
There is a hollowness in our hearts, and any self-examination worth its salt invariably leads to the discovery of new “crud.” Thus it is easy to be cynical, to see only smallness of spirit if not outright self-serving sin in others. And, perhaps saddest of all, we choose the personal path of least resistance and become cynical about ourselves.
Rather than truly face that alarming emptiness in our hearts, that deadening hollowness, we proclaim it to be normal. We conveniently decide that we should not expect more of ourselves.
Advent dares us to dream. The eighth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans provides us with a wonderful Advent meditation. The apostle reminds us bluntly what the first fruits of the Spirit will mean for us. The Spirit, he says, will help us groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free. “For we must be content to hope that we shall be saved; our salvation is not in sight — we should not have to be hoping for it if it were — but as I say, we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet; it is something we must await in patience.”
Paul uses some difficult concepts: groaning, not yet in sight, patience. We do not want to groan inwardly; we want instant gratification; patience comes hard for all of us.
Advent does not provide ready answers; it calls us to faith. A line often used in the Advent liturgy should become a mantra for us: “O, come, Lord Jesus; O you heavens, rain down your salvation. Lord, just let it pour upon me.”
Texts such as these are put not just on the lips of individual Christians. In the liturgy the whole church cries out longing for fullness. During Advent the church itself makes its own the words of the prophet Isaiah, words spoken during some of Israel’s most difficult years. How can it be, we ask, that the church makes its own the pathos in Isaiah’s heart as he cried out in the wilderness of his being for consolation, for a path of salvation in his personal desert?
Yes, the church cries out: “Come to us, Lord, with your peace that we may rejoice before you with our whole heart.” Freely, openly, the church admits that it is restless. But what else is to be expected since the church is not yet fully at home with its Lord?
And so we shun the temptation to cynicism, the temptation that makes our smallness of spirit the norm. Because we know Jesus, we hope for more. We should take consolation that the church in its Advent liturgy admits to its incompleteness, its smallness of spirit, its temptation to settle down and idolize its current structures as nigh-on perfect.
During Advent we as individuals and as church renew our pledge not to settle down, not to make our home in the present age. We promise not to attempt to fill our incompleteness with anything and everything that is handy.
Advent reminds us that we can change and move beyond what satisfies us today. Advent also assures us that our church can change, can change even those structures it has so carefully divinized. In this Advent process we come to notice that our very concept of God also changes.
With the new freedom that comes from facing our deepest fears, we can with St. Paul realize that our patient groaning has been changed into the new song of the kingdom: “For I am now certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, not any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Britz was editor of the Prairie Messenger from 1983 - 2004.