Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This year it took until the third week of Advent for me to have what I call “that Advent feeling.” I discovered in our dusty pile of CDs a forgotten Advent album produced by Wyoming Catholic College made in 2015. The first track is a hymn called Behold the Dwelling of God by Andre Gouzes, O.P. about Mary and the Incarnation.
Behold, the dwelling of God among his people,
Mary, so highly favored,
shelter of heaven’s Glory,
Mother of Immanuel.
The angel of the Lord was sent to Mary,
And the Virgin was overcome by the Light.
Listen, Mary, do not be afraid:
You will conceive and bear a Son.
You are the new Eden and the Land of the Promise.
In you, the Sun of Justice has made his dwelling.
The melody causes one to feel that a promise is going to be fulfilled, that our longing will one day come to an end. It reminds me of the faithful remnant of Israel crying out to the Lord: we have been faithful, so when are you going to rescue us? In Mary the promise to Israel, to all the nations, was fulfilled. Every Advent that old familiar longing and ache for a fulfillment that we cannot have in this valley of tears returns to me as I contemplate the coming of the Infant Christ.
That Advent feeling occurs in other ways at other points in my life. These times are those that prefigure the Heavenly communion we will one day have if God, in his great Mercy, grants us eternal salvation. Just this past summer our family spent a week of leisure with some of our dearest friends, with whom my husband and I grew to love God in our early adulthood. Our time together had a touch of Heaven in our communion within the Church, in our common love of God, and in our shared pursuit of holiness. When we left from that week, that Advent ache was in my heart. I hoped for the day that we would never have to part. The feeling was the same when I was a child as I anticipated visiting my grandparents eight hours away and when we left for home again. These visits stood outside our earthly life in some way or if not outside they showed that the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed here in a veiled way.
This longing, this ache is also present in the vocation of marriage. How often did I pine after my husband when we were dating and separated on college breaks? Or when I tried to wait patiently for him to discern his vocation. In this instance, I felt that I had a promise from God for which I was waiting. And we still experience that longing as we count down to day four post-peak, and again we experience the ache, hope, and awe when we know that we might co-create a new human. These longings are akin to that which we should have for Heaven.
And the most Advent-like wait of all is that for the birth of a baby. While the baby is within my body, I have some sense of unity, but it is not until he is born that I come to know him for who he is. The waiting is long. The physical effects of bearing a child are difficult, and some of them never go away. And there is the longing, the ache to know this child. In some ways our state on earth is like the Our Lady in her expectation. Christ is with her physically, but she cannot see him or know him beyond his presence within her womb. We encounter Christ in others and we bear Christ within ourselves (in a state of grace) through our Baptism and when we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament, but our knowledge of him remains veiled. We ache and long for the end of our sorrows in this world so that we can know him fully in Heaven.
Our waiting and expectation does not end with the coming of Christmas; even now, we are more like the Blessed Mother in the Annunciation then we are like her after Christ’s birth. She knew him face to face in a sinless state; we can only await that sinless state. Christ’s birth is like the Annunciation in our hearts. Because God came to Earth as a man we can know him and receive him into our hearts, and like Our Lady we must carry him within us until the fulfillment of God’s promise to us. This Christmastide, we can imitate the Fiat of the Annunciation, and make way again to bear Christ within us. Advent has been a long preparing for the Infant King and the joy of Christmas. This joy is the knowledge of a promise fulfilled and our hope for the promise of Heaven yet to be fulfilled.