Each year, I try make a break with Ordinary Time, set up any new patterns of devotion I intend to observe, break out the Advent wreath, and get on with the work of active waiting in contemplation.
This year, it didn’t happen. Recovering and weary from pneumonia, distracted by health problems all around me, and completing the final week of a two and half year long odyssey to earn an advanced degree in theology, I was unable to focus. I blessed and lit the advent wreath only at my daughter’s prompting, since I’d forgotten and my wife was away on business. I dutifully loaded the 2013 Magnificat Advent app on my iPad, but only poked at it grudgingly. I even fell off on my regular prayer observations.
Rather than going forward into a new season of devotion, I actually was backsliding.
That’s never a good way to begin, but it’s a human enough response, and rather than getting annoyed or feeling ashamed, I brought it with me to a basic set of devotions and decided to build from there. I simplified. I found a focus in the simple, core image of Advent. It’s this:
I know: it’s obvious: so obvious we tend to overlook it. Advent is about light coming into a dark world. It’s a light the stretches to the very ends of the universe, yet concentrates itself into a single flickering candle flame lit by a child on a tabletop advent wreath.
It’s about this:
Light. I spent so much of my life in darkness, and still it tries to draw me back. The darkness is always there, either roaming the world or in the depths of the mind, trying to consume us. We are people of a promise, however. We have seen a great light, and that light is a light for all the nations.
Catholics light candles for a reason. They are a reminder that the flame of the Holy Spirit illuminates every dark place. This light came into the world with Christ, and in Advent we remember its coming. That’s why the season is preceded by readings from the book of Maccabees that are at the heart of the Hanukkah celebration. We remember the light that saves: a miraculous light that shines not only for 8 days, but eternity.
If, like me, you’re having trouble finding Advent, bring it right down to the basics. Light a candle. Focus on the flame. Remember that it is a sign of the Holy Spirit and the light of Christ coming into the world. Bring in into your heart. Let it find the dark places there and cast out the shadows.
Start with a simple flame, and let the Spirit kindle it into a mighty blaze.