Our Personal Advent
COMMENTARY: It may come to us through pain, joy and longing. All three give us reason to say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’
It was an Advent experience. When our children were small, I loved singing songs they knew with my own lyrics, usually at bedtime. Chim Chim Cher-ee was the first, I think. Our eldest loved Mary Poppins and I thought it was a lovely song. I sang to her:
Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-oo,
Oh, Sarah, my daughter,
Your daddy loves you.
Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-ee,
Oh, Sarah, my Sarah,
You’re precious to me.
Sarah, my darling,
You’re precious to me.
I sang more verses, but I don’t remember them now. I loved making up new lyrics for popular songs and singing them to the children. I miss it. Life gives you some joys just for a season, and seasons pass. They don’t come round again the way the year’s seasons do.
Once they’re gone, you’ll never enjoy quite the same joy again. I’d give something to sing “Chim Chiminey” again to a sleepy little girl curling up under the covers.
An Advent Experience
That season of joy I would love and then lose and never get back was an Advent experience. Not Advent in the usual sense. We think of Advent as the run-up to celebrating the birth of our Savior and looking forward to his return. It’s a season of preparation that when finished, is finished till next year.
That’s the liturgical Advent, though. Part of our communal life as Catholics and therefore regularized, even “routinized” as the sociologists put it, put into the schedule and set up with rites and readings. And given up when it’s done what it needed to do.
That communal life as Catholics points us to the End and trains us for it all year round. We meet Jesus in the Mass, we hear his words of forgiveness and encouragement in confession, we hear him speak through Scripture, the Church’s teaching and the saints, and so on. It’s a life of Advent acts, gifts we’re given because we’re in some way asking, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Personal, but still part of our communal life as Catholics.
We also enjoy personal Advents, the experiences and even seasons of experiences when we look forward to Jesus’ return. We live a personal Advent when we suffer so much we long for deliverance. We live it when we enjoy life so much we see something of what a perfect world would be like. And we live it when we enjoy something good and the world takes it away, and you know that everything passes in this world and this world will never fully satisfy.
Our personal Advents may come to us through pain, joy and longing, because all three give us reason to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Our Personal Advents
Not that most of us think of our lives this way. At least I don’t. That I should live my life oriented to meeting Jesus at the end of my life and of history, whichever comes first, that I know.
But that all sorts of experiences point me to the Lord’s Advent, that I don’t think about. Pain I see as something to get through and to turn to whatever uses God has for it. Pleasure I see as something to enjoy while it lasts, and to thank God for. But longing, longing for joys I’d lost, is the most consciously Adventual part of life for me.
It must be a matter of personality and experience, which one affects you most. I feel the losses that other people accept. Maybe it’s an effect of not feeling the pains others feel or the joys they enjoy. Or maybe I’m just being piggy and wanting more than I should have. Who knows.
But I feel the force of the questions Why is it gone? How can it be gone? And is it really gone? Was it maybe a kind a glimpse or a hint or a promise of a perfect world? Does it maybe announce a time the Lord will come again in glory, to wipe away every tear, to defeat death, to banish mourning and crying and pain from the earth, in his kingdom that will never end? Is the longing an answer to God saying, “Just wait.”
You have two choices with experiences like mine. You can see them as pleasures you get for a time until life takes them away, and that’s just life. Or you can see them as gifts given to enjoy but also, and mainly, gifts given to point you to the greatest gift, the final gift, the gift who perfects all his other gifts.
An Advent at the Farm Stand
The other day, my wife and I stopped by a farm stand we’d been visiting since our eldest was about 3, and while my wife went into the store I walked up the small hill to see the animals. They always have a big pig, sheep and goats, and sometimes a little pig and a donkey. I enjoy grunting back and forth with the pig and feeding the sheep and goats. But being there by myself isn’t being there with the children. I miss that.
I remember all the times the children excitedly ran up the walk to see the animals, and petted the ones who let you pet them. All the times that I put in the quarter in the gumball machine filled with feed and turned the crank, and made sure the children had their hands under the spout when I lifted the door to let the feed out, because they sometimes didn’t, and then reminded them to hold their hands out flat when they fed the animals. And the times we’d forgotten to bring quarters and the children’s disappointment, when I’d troop to the store and buy something to get two or three quarters in change. And the shocked moments when we saw the sign that the pig who’d been there for such a long time could now be purchased in the store, and all the times the children wanted to feed the cute little goat and the big goat kept pushing him out of the way.
I felt a little melancholic when I walked down the hill to meet my wife in the store. I’ll never do any of that again. But I will, someday, with God’s grace, in a better way. That feeling of loss was a kind of unconscious prayer: Come, Lord Jesus.