The start of every liturgical year brings us into the season of Advent. These fleeting four weeks often pass us in double-quick time amidst the many other preparations for Christmas. Many of us hardly have the time to truly enter into this spiritual space that the church provides for us to ready ourselves to wonder at the incarnation of God. The way the world of mammon promotes Christmas with such fervour causes our spiritual preparation for Christmas to take a back seat. The way things seem to be going, Advent would be lucky to be given a seat at all!
But in truth, Advent centres around a very important element in all of our lives, whether we are religious or not. This is because Advent’s heart is that of a yearning, a longing and a deep hunger that seeks to be sated.
Every single one of us can identify some part in our hearts which sees us incomplete, unfulfilled, and unfinished, causing us to constantly crane our necks to look for, pine for and yearn for that one thing that we consider to be our ultimate fulfillment and which once attained, will give us what we believe to be lasting and true joy.
The scenarios vary, but the underlying truth is that there is an undeniable consistency that threads through all of them - persons illness looking for a healing or a cure for their condition so that they can get back to life as they knew it before; students who yearn for the day when they finally get their hands on that coveted diploma; refugees who experiencing homelessness, leaving them with no real safe haven that accords them citizenship with its rights; broken hearts languishing in their depression anticipating the day when they can dare to love again; vice presidents of some multinational corporation just anxious for the day when they can sit in the place of their boss as the head of the company; single, unmarried persons pining for the appearance of a special human being who will be the perfect life partner in marriage. These are just examples to show that there is a longing that exists in all human hearts. We seem to exist in a world where there is a continual waiting, with an insatiable hunger that often leaves us hungrier and more needy than when we began to address it.
Doesn’t this prompt anyone to ask whether at all there exists a fundamental longing or an intrinsic desire that is at the root of this, or from where these strivings originate? Faith gives us an affirmative answer to this, and in the fifth century, St Augustine named it with a graced brilliance.
In his autobiography simply called Confessions, St Augustine bore his soul with great depth and honesty when he said “Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.”
Some would say that Augustine is probably history’s most notable ‘playboy-to-priest’, and his no-holds barred narration of his life shows that even great saints have had their share of chasing after false joys and temporary thrills. But it was only by the grace of God that he was led via his empty chases to the only and ultimate chase of all that he found peace, contentment and tranquility. It was revealed that what he was chasing without, was actually seeking him within. Before this discovery, the U2 hit “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” could have been his anthem.
In a nutshell, Augustine gave an answer to man’s constant quest for what he thinks ultimately satisfies and sets him at rest. All the yearnings and hopes that man can ever have are subordinate to the yearning that exists not just in the heart, but also in the very purpose that all hearts are created for – a union with our Creator.
Religion, when done well, brings us to that point where we are able to identify this. Religion then becomes the gateway for us to make that all-important connection with the origin of our hearts’ greatest desire. But when done badly, and when misused, religion can often end up doing the exact opposite of what it was meant to do, and can become in and of itself an end rather than a means toward one. Bad religion controls, but good religion truly frees. This is not to say that good religion is something that should be free of any boundaries either. In fact, good religion can and should show the love that undergirds all boundaries that are necessary for true freedom. We will be doing God a great injustice if we lead people to worship only the religion of God instead of helping them to meet the God of religion.
Advent’s purpose, though manifold, is to get everyone to dare to ask what in the world they are waiting for and hoping for in life. The end of Advent, which is Christmas, is the answer to this perennial question.
We all have our different longings, hopes and yearnings in life. Advent serves to remind us not just of our common yearnings as human beings, but also reveals that our ultimate yearning can only be fulfilled by the one who has created us in love, and came to show us how to truly love.