ADVENT: One Great Act of Giving Birth

“…we wait for what God has promised: new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home.” (2 Peter 3)

Memories surface in the stillness before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament – childhood, youthful, lovely memories. And a Word from the book of Revelation points me in the direction I need to travel on my spiritual journey this Advent, as a way of preparing for Christmas and for eternity. Jesus says, “you do not love me now as you did at first!” (Revelation 2) and indeed I know that my love for Him has become quiet, lacking in the kind of feeling I would like to have, needing more ardour, devotion. There was a time when I was a child and I had this really strong love for God and I find myself speaking the words of Henry Vaughan in ‘The Retreat’ “Happy those early days when I shined in my Angel-infancy. Before I understood this place…” and though I can’t return to the past, my prayer is to rediscover something of that kind of pure childlike love.

The flame of my love for God cooled down to a pile of hot embers on the grate in the fireplace, embers that wait through the night to be stoked again in the morning!

Of course, in childhood love is simpler, purer, less complicated but as we go through life it can become a sorrow, a hurt – experiences we need to emerge from with a different and, perhaps, a stronger kind of love.

My years as a seminarian and young priest were marked by an intense desire for God, like the feeling one gets when you live far from home. It’s a home-sickness for God. Everyone who has left home knows that feeling, the anticipation of coming home for Christmas; the waiting for the one you love to come home.

Those early years were also marked by a great appetite for prayer, though I had to be taught to moderate my zeal for prayer and for God. I used to leave what was called “sacred study” to go to the chapel to pray alone but the Rector caught me and convinced me that there’s no good praying when you’re supposed to be studying. There’s an order, a discipline to the spiritual life that means I can’t be in formal prayer when I’m supposed to be engaged in pastoral ministry or whatever it is that life demands of me, though prayer happens of its own accord throughout the day. It stands to reason but I have never since regained the same unquenchable appetite for prayer and part of me thinks now that if I were left alone to the workings of the Holy Spirit, I would have gotten the balance right anyway.

The other thing which is closely associated with the prayer goes back to how much I loved God. I just loved Him so much for Himself but a friend reminded me that I should also love people like I loved God. There was no question of me not loving people but my friend said I didn’t love them enough, so, as I often do, I surrendered to what I regarded as the superior wisdom of another. I dedicated myself to what my friend asked and it worked. It worked so well that now I wish I could love God as much as I love the people in my parish, as well as those who are obviously dear to my heart. I lost the intensity of love for God along the way and I want it back. That’s what I desire this Advent. That is my waiting!

I’ve learned that all desire is ultimately for God and that is what Advent is really about – “O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting, my body pines for you.” (Psalm 63); “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you my God.” (Psalm 42). 

And it goes beyond me, us, our families and all of humanity because the whole of Creation is in a state of groaning with us, yearning and waiting for its fulfilment in Christ – “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly” (Romans 8).

Everything that exists is connected to Him and comes to completion in Him – “Christ is everything and He is in everything!” (Colossians 3:11) – and it is part of our Christian faith that we see ecology, caring for the earth, the environment in the context of God and not separate from Him. Our obligation is not just to the planet and all that lives on it, but to God the Creator of it all.

Something else we tend to forget and maybe don’t want to think about – there will be an end of the world as we know it; there will be the Second Coming of Jesus but the extinction we fear is not extinction but rather transformation, re-creation, fulfilment and resurrection. Caring for the earth is part of our preparation for that fulfilment; caring for our souls is also an essential preparation for that fulfilment and our entry into eternal life. The preparation takes place now. It is living now in the way that Jesus calls us to live; it is entering into the movement of the Holy Spirit who prays within us with groans beyond all utterance. (Romans 8)