I love Advent. I always have. As a child lighting the candles of the advent wreath in the darkness of our kitchen table every evening before dinner was the first ritual of my memory that filled me with a sense of meaning and reaching out to something “other”. As I have grown older it seems that this “otherness” is the elusive and hidden quality of God that we always seek sometimes even unconsciously and very occasionally are lucky enough to find. But even in those moments when we touch otherness, afterward we seem to only sense our utter solitude and are left with a renewed sense of longing. I’m not sure we’ll ever satisfy that in this world. However, this quality of God is no less delightful for its unpredictability and frustration. Children know this best. They love seeking. They never tire of games involving a treasure hunt, hide and seek , or scavenger hunt. And once they have found something, or even if they don’t , they seldom seem to tire of playing the same game and searching again. Children understand, as we do not, that the most fun we can hope for in this world is searching; that most of the finding will have to wait. It is perhaps why Christians say of children that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”.
It is this quality of searching for me that constitutes the very essence of the inheritor life. Prayer is itself a searching. Adults are not the best seekers. There are days where we tire of seeking, where the search seems futile, where in our search the only things we seem to find are our own emptiness and insufficiency. And even in those lucky moments when we do not feel empty and we are filled with an awareness that the whole cosmos seems to be inside of us, we find we must look outward to even begin to understand it. The search is never easy.
Advent is a season of searching, of expectancy and longing. During Advent the world is empty and bare. It is the womb that is full. One of my favorite lines of veneration to the Theotokos (Mary) states “He whom the whole world could not hold, is now enclosed within your womb”. The womb is a symbol of hiddenness. At Christmas we watch with awe at transformation, a reversal, and for a quick instant the world is full and the womb emptied. Christmas is a celebration of the seekers, of unexpected findings.
And who could not find comfort in that, true comfort. Comfort that doesn’t pretend that the darkness isn’t real, but rather that there are lights that occasionally pierce it and sometimes for a few fleeting moments, we find them.