An Advent Vigil

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

How often have we heard the tune of a familiar Christmas carol and failed to fully appreciate the significance of the words and events that inspired the song?

In my mind the lines above from “O Holy Night” get right at the heart of what the season of Advent is about. Too long have we lived in pain and confusion; too long have we waited with desire for true joy and lasting goodness. But sometimes, in the midst of despair, grace enters and the presence of God allows us to see and feel, perhaps for the first time, the fullness of our worth and dignity.

The true beauty of the season of Advent lies in the way in which it sanctifies that which is most human in us: our desire to love and call ourselves beloved, the desire for that which is eternal to break into our mortal lives, for that which is light to break into our darkness, for God’s loving presence to become a felt reality in our all too frail human condition.

Denise Levertov, in her wonderful poem called “Annunciation,” asks the question, “Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?” I wonder if we can recall moments in our own lives when suffering and sadness surrendered to a new spirit of healing and reconciliation? Haven’t there been moments where that thrill of hope has risen in us to rejoice in the face of despair, to act boldly or speak prophetically for peace and justice?

This Advent I pray that we might let God’s incarnate presence renew our sense of human dignity and give us the courage (however weary!) to rejoice; for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!