12 Dec 2011
Advent Reflection (from Taize)
And if the season of Advent came to renew hope in us? Not a facile optimism that closes its eyes to reality, but that strong hope that casts its anchor in God and enables us to live fully in the present day.
The Christian year begins with Advent, the time of expectant waiting. Why? To reveal to us the aspiration that lies within us and to deepen it: the desire for an absolute to which each person tends with their entire being—body, soul and mind—the thirst for love that burns in everyone, from tiny infants to elderly people, and that even the greatest human intimacy cannot completely satisfy.
We often experience this expectancy as a lack or as emptiness that is difficult to accept. But far from being an anomaly, it is part of our being. It is a gift; it leads us to open ourselves; it orients our entire being towards God.
If we dare to believe that the emptiness can be filled by God, then already we can live this expectant waiting with joy. Saint Augustine helps us when he writes: “A Christian’s entire life is a holy desire. by making us wait, God extends this desire; by making us desire, he extends the soul; by extending the soul, he makes it able to receive… If you desire to see God, you already have faith.”
Brother Roger loved those words of Saint Augustine and it was in that spirit that he prayed: “God, you love us: when we have the desire to welcome your love, that simple desire is already the beginning of a humble faith. In the depths of our soul little by little a flame is kindled. It may be quite faint but it keeps on burning.”
The Bible emphasizes the long journey of the people of Israel and shows how God gradually prepared Christ’s coming. What is passionate in the Bible is that it tells the whole story of love between God and humanity. It begins with the freshness of a first love; then come the limits and even the unfaithfulness. But God never gets tired of loving; he keeps searching for his people. In fact, the Bible is the history of God’s faithfulness. “Can a woman forget her little child? Even if there was one who did, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
Reading this long history can awaken in us the sense of gradual maturation. Sometimes we would like to have everything at once, without realizing the value of times of ripening! But the psalms offer a different outlook: “My times are in your hand, Lord” (Psalm 31:16).
Knowing how to wait… Being there, simply, with no ulterior motives. Kneeling in order to recognize, even with the body, that God acts differently than we imagine. Opening our hands as a sign of welcome. God’s response will always be a surprise. By preparing us for Christmas, Advent prepares us to welcome.
Even if we are not always able to express our inner desire in words, keeping silence is already an expression of openness to God. During this season of Advent, we remember that God himself came, in Bethlehem, in a great silence.
The stained-glass window of the Annunciation in the church in Taizé shows the Virgin Mary recollected and open; she remains in silence in the expectation that the promise of God’s angel is going to be fulfilled.
Just as the long history that came before Christ was the prelude to his coming to earth, in the same way Advent enables us each year to open ourselves gradually to Christ’s presence in us. Jesus discerns our expectation just as one day he discerned that of Zacchaeus. And he says to us, as he said to him, “I must stay with you today” (Luke 19:5).
Will we let the joy of Zacchaeus come to birth in us? Then our hearts, like his, will open to others. He decided to give half of his goods to the poor. Today, we know that much of humankind is thirsting for a minimum of material well-being, for justice, for peace. During the season of Advent, are there forms of solidarity we can put into practice in our lives?
The texts we read in the liturgy during Advent express a kind of dream of universal peace: “peace abounds till the moon is no more” (Psalm 72:7), “endless peace” (Isaiah 9:7), a land where “wolves live with lambs” and where there is no more violence (Isaiah 11:1-9).
These are poetical texts, but they awaken a longing in us. And we see that “peace on earth” can come to birth in all the acts of reconciliation that take place, in the trust that people find in each other. Trust is like a small mustard-seed that will grow and, little by little, become the great tree of God’s kingdom where “peace without end” flourishes. Trust on earth is a humble beginning to peace.