Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Column: Advent 4: The dawn from on high

A winter's dawn at Wernersville's Jesuit Center.
I am still clinging to Advent, to the minor keys and clear tones, to the short days and the sun that reaches deep into the shadows.

I was struck by how much energy the sun puts out — 1026 joules per second — and how little of it reaches my sunroom floor...

This column appeared in at on 21 December 2016.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. — From the Benedictus, Luke 1:78-79

It’s still Advent in my house. The only signs of the impending Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord are the small Holy Family on the mantle, bought by my youngest for me this summer on a trip to Iceland, and the Nutcracker half hidden on a bookshelf, forgotten since last Christmas.

It’s still Advent in part because it’s the end of the semester, a time when I think it a miracle if I manage to get the laundry not only washed, but folded and put away. But even if it weren’t the most wild and crazy time of the year for me, it would still be Advent, because I am loathe to let go of these precious few days of lingering light.

The dawn breaks late these last Advent mornings, washing over my shoulder at Morning Prayer. Midmorning, the light leans in through the windows, stretching out its rays deep into my office, its warmth defying the cold outside. From almost 100 million miles away, this light seems gentle, comfortable, wrapping around me like a cloak, turning the steam above my tea into smoky whirls, like incense, rising in prayer.

Yet this tender light pooled on the floor by my feet is but a tiny fraction of the power residing in that single star. A million billion billion times more energy pours forth each second, streaming out into the universe. Untouchable, unthinkable power, the merest tendrils of which are enough to let forests flourish and people in darkness find their way.

It’s still Advent in my house, because it will always be Advent, until the end of time.  Every morning, the church raises her voice in the Benedictus, Zachariah’s hymn upon the birth of John the Baptist. At each celebration of Morning Prayer proclaiming again and again the dawn that will come, in power and glory, radiant with joy, resplendent in majesty, full of mercy and compassion.

It’s always Advent, for we are ever awaiting the coming of God among us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

From Jesuit Father Karl Rahner’s reflection, “God who is to come” in Encounters in Silence.

O God who is to come,
grant me the grace to live now,
in the hour of your Advent,
in such a way that I may merit to live in you forever,
in the blissful hours of your eternity.

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