“Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
Luke 10: 21-24
Advent is a season of many paradoxes. Among the most striking of them is that we await the coming of that which is already here. We await the celebration (the memorialization) of the birth of the Christ into our world and that waiting is a reminder of how our whole life is a preparation for our own and our world’s coming encounter with the Christ in glory.
We are aware in our experience of very different modes of waiting. As we wait for something or someone we are longing to meet, we wait with an eager excitement. We find it difficult to live in the present, for we want the time that separates us from that meeting to pass quickly. Most of us remember the Christmas Eve’s of our childhood when the night leading to Christmas morning could not pass quickly enough. I remember at least once awaking in what was probably the middle of the night, and so my parents and I opened my gifts on what were probably the very initial minutes of Christmas Day. On the other hand, when our anticipation is colored by dread of what awaits us, we do all we can to block that anticipation and to try to live to the fullest the present moment. I remember some years ago when the date was set when I would be leaving what had been my home for decades, including leaving those close to me that made it home, how I tried so hard to live each day and moment to the fullest, even as the time of our departure approached. Both of these ways of waiting are determined, of course, by our own vital or emotional dimension. We are measuring reality, and so forming our experience, in light of how the future reality feels to us.
The waiting that Advent teaches us, however, is a waiting from a different level of our personality. It includes our body and our feelings, as well as our functional and work capacity, but its source is far deeper. It is a “waiting upon” that we do from the place of our origin, from our “uncreated being.” I still remember as an undergraduate student learning in a just developing theology at the time that Jesus himself, as a human person, came to the consciousness of who he was over time, over the course of his life experience. At the time, this was astounding to me. I had always just thought of Jesus, although he was human, as always having the consciousness of God. To hear, however, that his experience of himself was like mine was life confirming and, in many ways, life transforming. For, I knew in my own experience, even then, the intimations of the “riches which [I] had become in the Unity of the living ground where [I] possessed myself in accordance with the mode of [my] uncreated being.” Yet I also knew that who I really was remained largely unknown to me. The meaning of the truth and how to live it ever more congenially is only gradually and tentatively revealed to us. In our tradition we speak of this when we say that in Jesus we live with God, at God’s right hand, but the fullness of that life is still to be made known to us. As the first letter of John puts it: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
Now there are two lessons for us, at least for me, in these considerations. The first is that we are to learn how to wait in such a way that we are able to receive when it comes the vision of the truth of our lives. Our waiting must not be filtered merely through our life of craving and aversion. The Lord may come to us, that is the revelation of our life with Christ in God, may manifest itself to us in ways we like and in ways we don’t. Our tendency is to cease to wait on something we eagerly crave because we want to grab it, like the “greedy greyhounds” we can be, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing puts it. When we are grasping or hurrying, we are not patiently and openly waiting. We are likely to grasp what we “like” of the truth and to disregard the rest. On the other hand when we feel aversion or dread at what we are awaiting, we also find it difficult to remain open to the light and the darkness that this coming will contain. We know that as governed by instinct we react in fight or flight to that which frightens us. Neither of these modes is that of transcendent waiting. Over and over again in life, we discover that the presence of God, that a fuller sense of our life, comes to us from moments and experiences that we would have avoided if we could at all cost. Advent’s call to wait applies to all of the people, situations, and events of our lives. To respond out of the depth of our own uniqueness, we must first wait upon the moment so that it may show itself to us
The second lesson comes through in the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” As I read these today, I realize that I live so often as if I have not seen what I have. I have seen the Lord, not abstractedly but in the course of my life experience. In certain joyful and desperate moments, I have known what it is to be grasped and upheld by the love of God. I have, at least at moments, known the profound joy that comes from a sense of gratitude to God for the gift of my life as coming from God. And yet, I live so much of the time of my life as if I did not know this. Jesus reminds the disciples of the gift they have been given. Yet, he realizes that they often live in forgetfulness of the gift. So, he reminds them that they have received what humanity has always desired and longed for yet did not experience.
To realize this gap between a grateful appreciation of the gift, on the one hand, and my own consciousness, on the other, evokes a sadness in the waiting. We await in the experiential knowledge at once of the truth of that for which we long and of our continuing forgetfulness of it. Christ is always coming to us, at every moment and in every breath, but we are not there in a stance of full presence and waiting. This is what Advent teaches us. This liturgical season speaks to me, and I know to many, like no other. It speaks to the joyful and painful paradox of our daily lives. At times we savor and see the riches we possess in the “incomprehensible wonder” of our residing in the love of God. At so many other times, we live in forgetfulness of this truth. Advent invites us to enter ever more willingly and openly into this paradox of our lives. We are to learn what are our unique personal obstacles to waiting on God, to truly being in such a way that the reality of our own life in God may come to the surface of our consciousness and will. As it does, we find ourselves ever more able to say, as does St. Paul, “ I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Phil. 4: 11)
In a way characterized by both activity and blissful enjoyment, the Spirit embraces and penetrates the Father and the Son and all that lives in both of them with such great riches and joy that all creatures must remain silent before this, for the incomprehensible wonder which resided in this love eternally transcends the understanding of all creatures. But when a person understands this wonder and savors it without amazement, then has his spirit been raised above itself and been made one with the Spirit of God; it savors and sees—without measure, like God himself—the riches which it has itself become in the Unity of the living ground where it possesses itself in accordance with the mode of its uncreated being.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, III, iv