In the fifth post in our Foundations series, the Rev. Chris Myers of All Saints Dallas describes how we can enter into one of the most beloved and profoundly mysterious seasons of the Church Year—Advent.
I used to think I would get to a place in my life where I wasn’t waiting for the next thing. I used to believe I would reach some stage, call it adulthood, where I had all the things I hoped for and could just enjoy where I was. After getting married, after having a child, after starting a career in ministry, after buying a house–whatever the marker, whatever the after, I thought there was stasis on the other side of somewhere. But I have found, along with everyone who has ever lived and thought about it, that there is no such stage, that this kind of contentment truly is a Utopia–“no place.” And while on one level, I can see that there are times when my restlessness comes from a place of unbelief and an unrighteous sense of lack, there are other moments when the sense is not a gnawing lack but a holy hunger.
Advent is a season for such holy hunger. Advent, this time when we as the Church inhabit Christ’s first coming as a way to look forward to his second, names that hunger and in some sense gives us a taste of what it might feel like to be truly satisfied. Though Advent is a season in the liturgical year, the Church is really in perpetual Advent. The Church is the ever-waiting Bride, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is one reason we begin the liturgical year with Advent, so that the sense of longing and waiting for the coming of Christ sets the stage for the whole year, reminding us that the posture of anticipation, of hopeful waiting, is the perpetual posture of the Church.
We are hungry, and in the Incarnation humanity has tasted and seen what it is for God to dwell with us, what it is for God to walk among us, for him to touch us, for us to look into his eyes, for us to hear the timbre of his voice. Once tasted, once seen, of course we would long for more, of course we would cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” So in Advent, in those days leading up to the Incarnation, to the nativity, to what Yeats called “the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor,” we find ourselves as symbolic Marys and Josephs, as Zechariahs and Elizabeths, filled with awe and wonder, pondering these things in our hearts, asking what it could all mean.
And as we ponder we open our hearts to God and ask for forgiveness. Advent is a penitential season because we want to be ready. We want to be wise virgins who have oil prepared for the coming of the Bride Groom. We want to be faithful stewards who have multiplied those things the master has entrusted us with. So we confess those times when we have been unwise, foolish really, and when we have been unfaithful.
The question for you in Advent is, will you too ponder these things in your heart? Will you ponder the mystery of Christ’s human beginnings and the mystery of his bodily return? Will you grapple with both Incarnation and Parousia and steadfastly focus on the mystery of Christ’s person? Will you dare to hope that the one who came in humility will come again in glory and let that hope lead you to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” not because you long for him to come and discard the world, but because you long for him to come and restore the world? Will you pray because you long for all that is to rise again with him who is risen?
Will you ponder these things in your heart?
If you have never read On the Incarnation by Athanasius, I would commend it to you in this season of Advent. It is ancient, but it is approachable. However, though it is understandable, it points to the incomprehensible. But there is no mystery more worth our pondering.
The Rev. Chris Myers is curate and office manager at All Saints Dallas. He and his wife Morgan have a beautiful daughter, Eleanor. Contact Chris.