Saturday, December 3, 2016


Advent this year finds the people of the United States experiencing a sense of dividedness that we’ve seldom experienced before. Some might say that the use of the word “United” in the name of our nation ought to be temporarily suspended.

I'd like to offer some thoughts for Advent in a time of divisiveness.

Here is an excerpt from my book, From Holidays to Holy Days (2008).

St. Augustine thinks that all our human hungers and all our yearnings are simply facets of one single, inborn longing: the desire for the Divine. My fondness for chocolate ice cream, my attraction to a pretty face, and my passion for Mozart’s horn concertos are all aspects of the one deepest desire, to possess God. In Augustine’s view, we are each born with a natural thirst for the Divine, which only something Infinite can ultimately satisfy. Advertisers know about this inner longing; they redirect it, converting it into a desire for a flashy car, the latest video game, or this year’s “must-have” toy. Millions of us fall for this switch because we don’t understand the real goal of our inner hunger. Under the spell of advertisers, political demagogues and others, we get caught up in a frenzied, frantic seeking after created things such as material possessions, power or comfort.
Ironically, this misguided passionate searching is most apparent during the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, which occurs during Advent, the very season when the church keeps pointing us toward the true object of our longing: the only one who can fill the nagging emptiness at the center of our hearts. The message of Advent has never been more needed than it is in our day, when so many people are caught up in a frantic but misdirected search for happiness.

This year, I would add that our longing as humans is also for unity in its various forms (loving and being loved by another, for example, or wanting to “belong”). Just yesterday at a community meeting, we monks voted on a certain important motion, and it passed unanimously. What a good feeling that was!


But our country seems to be at the other extreme at the moment: we seem to be divided on many important questions. I thought of this when I read the second reading in the lectionary for the Second Sunday of Advent (Dec.4, 2016), Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome who were experiencing all sorts of  disagreements within their community. The entire chapter is worth looking at, but here is the sentence that caught my eye:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6)

There’s a Russian proverb that goes, “Pray with all your might, but row toward shore.” So, it’s not enough for us to sit on our hands and pray for a sense of unity in our country. Look at the Gospel reading assigned for the Second Sunday of Advent: “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” He told his hearers that they must do something, they must “repent” (in Greek the verb “metanoiete” means to undergo a change of mind or heart.)

We should hear John’s call today as a call to do our part in working for the unity that Christ died to bring to the world. The New Testament is full of ideas as to how to do that, how to work at building up the Kingdom, most notable among them, of course, being Jesus' many examples of compassion, healing and self-sacrifice.

A quick search of the internet will also offer you thousands of ideas. For starters, you might click on this article about "giving people."  

So, during this Advent season, a time of joyful hope, let us pray with all our might for God's gift of unity and healing, and, meanwhile, let all of us row toward shore.

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