The Third Sunday of Advent
Let the Light In
By: Emily VanBerkum
We are now more than half-way through Advent. Today, we rejoice because Christ’s coming is ever nearer and we live in the hope that Christ’s light will illuminate the world’s darkness. We’ve heard that we are an “Advent People,” and as such, our interior preparation for Christ’s coming is grace-filled and a time of purposeful longing. This truth bears a new significance in our current context.
Desert inhabitant, John the Baptist, is a central figure in our Advent Gospels. John embodies the very spirit of self-preparation and longing for Christ. Today’s Gospel continues the narrative of John preaching and testifying as a living messenger of first testament prophecy. There is a growing urgency in John’s words for the hope of a promise fulfilled.
In today’s scene, a barrage of questions from Jewish priests, Levites, and Pharisees about John’s identity, sparks those very same messianic expectations long foretold. Was John the Prophet, Elijah, or the Messiah? John’s audience had good reason to hope. First Testament prophets, such as Malachi, promised that Elijah’s reappearance would signal the “day of the Lord.” So, John silences his interrogators and gives credence to his prophetic voice by echoing Prophet Isiah’s words crying out in the wilderness to the Israelites, imploring preparation for the Lord’s arrival: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” As a messenger, John is clear that he is not the Messiah, but rather, a “witness to the light.”
Purposeful longing. A repeat message to prepare our hearts and minds to welcome Christ’s coming. Today, a new dimension of this self-preparation is added as we join with John in “witnessing to the Light.” This means that, after self-examination, our very lives serve as evidence of the Light of Christ and that we are called to be a light for others.
As Lucinda and John shared last week, we are constantly waiting. Our waiting and messianic expectations must be characterized by attentiveness to our inner spiritual gifts and the truths of ourselves- all in the hope and blessing of holding fast to God’s redemptive promises and allowing God to “labour in us.” This Christmas will be unlike any we’ve experienced before. We could choose to focus on how our holiday traditions will be disrupted, the family or friends we won’t get to embrace, the festive meals we will be denied, or the gifts in abundance we won’t receive or purchase.
I encourage us to enter into the grace of this season and our current circumstances and consider it as “gift.” What sort of Christmas can your heart prepare for that embraces all aspects of this season’s longing- even that which is most painful or isolating? Fr. Ron Rolheiser writes that we should not deny our longings, but “enter them, deepen them, and widen them until we undergo self-transformation.” By getting in touch with our longings, “we help create the space within us where the coming of Christ brings new meaning into our lives; longing leads us to the stable and the manger of Bethlehem. It carves out a trough into which God can be born. Longing teaches us that we are more than the limits of our present.”
To “witness to the light,” we must first experience the Light of Christ deep within us. This is a challenge and invitation because the darkness of the present time is overwhelming. But in longing for the eternal, Christians let the light in.
When thinking of the powerful symbolism of light and the need for encouragement to see the special graces of this Advent, I was reminded of lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s poetic song “Anthem.” Written during a tumultuous global reality, Cohen sings “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Longing makes us responsible for bringing light to the darkness. Our current reality is far from perfect, and our recognitions of grace in this moment will not be flawless either. There may be cracks as there are plenty of fissures throughout the world. These “cracks” can be moments of self-doubt, challenge, anxiety, or feelings of loss.
Entering deeper into longing creates an opening that only Christ can fill. This is the crux of this Advent: without the distractions of our regular holiday routines, the space in our hearts meant for Christ’s birth is given the proper conditions in which to grow and intensify. Christ’s light illuminates our darkest shadows and offers hope. Where there is a desire, Christ will find a way. And so, it’s consolation to me, and a beautiful paradox that my brokenness, fearfulness, and anxiety of all the pandemic’s uncertainty and “what ifs” actually enables me to let the peace of Christ’s light in and make Christ the real reason for the season. We have a chance to celebrate this season differently, and a new beginning is certainly a reason to be joyful.