Saturday, December 15, 2012


The sense of expectation, of a future fulfillment of God's purpose, is an essential part of the Christian experience. We all know that we've already been saved by Christ who has died and has risen to conquer sin and death. Yet we all experience every day the fact that death and sin are very much still here - they're not yet fully overcome. We live, we’re told, in a time in between the two comings of Christ, between his first coming at Bethlehem and his final coming at the end of the world. Thus all of us live in the tension between what has already happened and what is still to come.


While every Christian lives in this “already-but-not-yet” time, monastic men and women live with a especially acute sense of waiting for the Lord to come. Each day we celebrate Vigils: a prayer of quiet, hopeful waiting and expectant longing for Christ to come and save us. Benedict in his Rule admonishes us "Keep death ever before your eyes."

We Benedictines live this sense of hope also by our vow of stability: holding firm in our commitment no matter what, especially in times when the Lord seems far away or when God is taking too long to come. In community living we help one another in countless ways to “wait in joyful hope.”

Benedict wants his monks to cultivate a sense of awareness, constantly looking for God's presence everywhere, being aware of Christ's approach in everyone they meet.

Advent, then, is surely the monks’ season, a time for facing the reality of our own imperfection and that of the world while at the same time looking in hope to the future knowing that this present imperfect life is not our destiny or our final goal.


A young Newtown CT survivor
Sometimes, though, it seems as if the “not-yet” side of the tension, characterized by sin, suffering and death has completely taken over and overwhelmed the “already” side of life (the part that says the Christ has already conquered sin and death). In the past few weeks we’ve been praying for our neighbors a few miles away made homeless by hurricane Sandy, but during Morning Prayer this morning, in the midst of the Church’s mood of hopeful waiting for the coming of Christ, we prayed explicitly for the families of all the victims of yesterday’s horrifying massacre in Newtown Connecticut. There are always plenty of problems to pray about, but it just seemed to me this morning that things were really getting out of balance.

There’s a kind of hope that is simply crossing your fingers and holding your breath as you wait for some desired outcome. But the kind of hope that the Church calls us to during this Advent season seems to me to be another kind of hope, the Christian virtue that shakes its fist defiantly in the face of catastrophic storms, insane massacres, fiscal cliffs, and everything else in our lives that says that all is lost and that God has abandoned us. It’s the hope that shouts “Alleluia!” at funerals – for no earthly reason, with no human logic.


So, as we continue the season, as the Church ratchets up the sense of expectation of the coming of the Savior, we bring to our prayer all of the worst things about the sin-sick world in which we live, and we defiantly lift them up and hurl them in the face of God’s almighty power to save.
Advent is not a time for telling God how big your problem is;
Advent is the time for telling your problem how big your God is!
Come, Lord, Jesus!

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