Advent is nearly finished with its serene and silently beautiful movement toward our celebration of His birth.
A friend gave me an essay written in The Washington Post by Michael Gerson who captured the real meaning of advent’s bountiful spiritual gifts. He wrote that, “…advent leaves every human being with a choice between despair and longing.” Wow! I ask myself, what do I long for? It takes considerable reflection to really dig deeply into my soul to see what I long for. If I can do this, I will be more prepared to accept the gifts of Christmas that my faith is offering me.
We have to choose between despair and longing, Gerson says. He points out that faced with the choice between despair and longing, our advent faith says we opt for longing. If we are truly an advent person as Karl Rahner describes, we love living in the present and anticipating a future. Like children, we hide on the staircase waiting to see how and when the gifts will arrive. Our heart beats with excitement. That’s an advent person. The advent person lives with an eye to the future, a future that has been secured by Christ’s presence on this earth with us.
What we long for will appear if our hearts are open. This is grace. So, take some time alone this Christmas and sit in prayer asking God for the insight to know what you long for. Is it peace? Is it reconciliation with someone? Is it a deeper, more meaningful and satisfying spiritual life? Whatever it is, Jesus will make it whole and complete in your life. Tap into your longings. It is the same as opening a gift.
A few years ago I read, Silent Night: The Story of a Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. In 1914, German and English troops faced each other on Christmas Eve in the heat of battle. Suddenly, the German troops put up Christmas trees along their trenches after a day of burying their dead. The English troops, seeing the trees, began singing carols, and, eventually, men from both sides walked toward each other exchanging cognac, gifts of food, and even their home addresses. A game of touch football then took place between them. Weintraub had interviewed some of the men who experienced this truce. They told him that superiors on both sides ordered them not to be friendly but to shoot at the enemy. Instead, they shot into the air and shook hands with each other. Each man admitted to Weintraub, he had an intense longing for peace. This longing overtook the rules of battle. A truce had been effected.
This story tells me what we can do despite our divisions. Is there a rift in your family, a rupture that exists this Christmas which you long to see healed? Maybe someone is outside the circle. Can you invite them in? Can you begin the slow and careful attention to healing whatever created the distance? Do you have a feeling of loneliness or spiritual dryness? Reach down and pull up your longings. Give them a name. Ask for the insight to find them or they will smother your efforts at happiness. If you can’t do it alone, ask someone to help you. The point is to identify your longings this Christmas and embrace them and develop them into a spiritual truce for your soul. We cannot experience the peace or happiness we long for if we keep our minds closed and refuse to cross the trenches of our personal wars.
I’m including a lovely musical rendition of Silent Night which I hope might help you reflect on the longings within your heart and soul that you can tend to this season and beyond. That will be a wonderful gift you can give yourself for Christmas.
To all of you—those of you I know personally and those of you who are my Anonymous Angels, I send my sincerest, deepest wishes for a Holy, Happy Christmas as you elevate your longings into actions of kindness and love. You will be fondly remembered in my Christmas Mass and prayers and reflections because you are all gifts to me.