Monday, December 21, 2009

Shipwrecked at the Stable

Many years ago dh and I started observing Advent as a season of preparing for Christmas, much as Lent is a season of preparing for Easter. Every day during Advent and the twelve days of Christmas (spanning the period from Christmas to Epiphany), I read from Watch for the Light, a book of readings by various authors. Yesterday’s reading from Brennan Manning was really long, but one passage particularly struck me:

The shipwrecked at the stable are captivated by joy and wonder. They have found the treasure in the field of Bethlehem. The pearl of great price is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Everything else is cheap, fake, painted fragments of glass.

The question for all of us is what we will really aim at next Christmas. If all we are going for is a placid decency, routine prayer, well-behaved worship and comfortable compassion, then we have effectively parted company with the shipwrecked and have no fellowship with the pearl-finder.

I wonder, if we were to stop people at random in the street on December 24 and ask them what they want most for Christmas, how many would say, "I want to see Jesus"?

I believe that the single most important consideration during the sacred season of Advent is intensity of desire. Paraphrasing the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, "Jesus Christ is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." An intense inner desire is already the sign of his presence in our hearts. The rest is the work of the Holy Spirit.

May we all begin to see the world in which we live as artifice and show and to seek wholeheartedly after the true reality.