Recently, a priest from Kenya, Africa, mentioned to me that he had noticed that darkness was coming sooner each day. I noted that that was a common occurrence in upstate New York, and in fact in the Northeastern United States. I told him, “The nights become longer and the days become shorter.” I further told him that by Christmas, he would notice very short days and very long nights. “But,” I added, “you will see Christmas lights adorning many people’s houses, and you will enjoy the night because of the bright Christmas lights!”
Light and darkness become a central focus in the Advent season. Isaiah becomes famous as he speaks of the light that will shine in darkness. Amid the darkening world around us, we Christians pull together, light our lights, and the gentle glow of an Advent candle fills the void brought on by darkness. As we gather at table and kindle the Advent lights, we portray our own personal faith, and the faith of our community, piercing the darkness of doubt, fear, loneliness and controversy.
Many parish communities in our diocese set up “giving trees” during this season. This activity invites participation in sharing with those who are less fortunate. The thought of a young child waking on Christmas morning to a brightly wrapped gift filled not only with a possession but with love warms the heart of every giver. This activity involves a free gift — no strings attached. We do not know the name of the recipient, we do not get to witness the opening and we will never hear of the excitement. Our hearts remind us, nevertheless, that we were secretly present. It is a light shining in the darkness of a small child, and a light shining in the darkness of our own hearts as we feel the warmth of giving. Advent alive!
Many of our parish communities are caught up in the process of clustering and/or merging. In this, we are caught between what has come and what is yet to be. Isn’t that the whole story of Advent? As Christians we realize Jesus has already come but that he has not yet been fully revealed. Being a season of hope, Advent invites us to live and dream and see the possibilities. It calls us to light the candle of hope to see the possibilities hidden in the darkness of hurt, loss, change and questioning. Christ, Light of the World, was born to bring hope. As we move into another phase of our church’s history, we do so like the pioneers of old knowing God is leading us. As sisters and brothers in the faith, that is precisely what we bring to emerging churches of our diocese. Advent alive!
In the days of Jesus’ birth, the world waited and wondered and did not recognize the Christ among them. After he began his public ministry, Jesus found many questions, few satisfied disciples and constant challenges. Jesus, however, pressed on. He had a destiny to fulfill, and fulfilled a destiny. These Advent days remind us that we, too, have a destiny. It is aligned with the fulfillment of the promise of God that our world would experience salvation. Christians are called to bring the grace of God into each moment of our own lives, the lives of family and friend, and the life of our world. We are called to the destiny of transformation and, finally, peace. We are the light shining in darkness. Advent alive!
We may not realize our goal in this world. We may not find true peace a quick possibility. We may not experience deep satisfaction in our pastoral planning. We will not see the bright eyes of an excited child opening our special gift to him or her. We will, however, know that we have done our part if we live as an Advent person. If we light our light and let it shine no matter how dark the darkness becomes. If we open ourselves to the power of God’s spirit and realize an ever brightening grace. If we live the destiny bequeathed to us by the Light of the World. We will be at peace. Advent will have worked its magic. Christmas will mysteriously wrap her arms around us.
Sometimes when we are searching for the meaning of Advent and the spirit of Christmas, we will not find it in the commercial world. One of the hallmarks of Christianity is the fact that we stand in contrast to the society in which we live. Here, however, we also have an opportunity to light our light. These Advent days provide an opportunity for us to be peaceful amid the confusion of pre-Christmas activity. This holy season invites us to see the deeper meaning of life, of promise and of Jesus’ coming. By doing so, we realize that these days are more than holidays but are the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany experience of history and God-With-Us now helping us transform bright lights and parties into meaningful symbols and celebrations as we write history. As my African friend viewed the changing seasons, so do we view the continual transformation begun when God spoke and the Word became flesh.
May the blessings of Advent be yours!
Father Mull is pastor of St. Mary Church in Canandaigua.