Run Forth – Pastor’s Reflection (December 3, 2017)
At the outset of Advent, the Liturgy places this collect (the Opening Prayer of the Mass) on our lips:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess
the heavenly kingdom.
I say this prayer every year, but this time “run forth” strikes me powerfully and not in a positive way, because I do not feel like running forth. The days are dark, it has been a packed Parish Fall, and a tumultuous secular year. My introverted self pines for my cozy room, a cocoon of the familiar where I may hibernate until things change, climactically, and otherwise. My mood is right on time; nature says its time for a “long Winter’s nap.” But the prayer comes in the Gospel’s time, summoning me to exert myself before I feel like it. Why so much concern to wake me up?
“Run forth” expresses the longing in the heart of Jesus, implanted by the Holy Spirit in the Church,
articulated clearly in her prayers, and apparently heard by almost no one. The ancient manual of church life called the Didache puts this desire into words as blunt as an alarm clock; “May grace come and this world pass away.” Inbuilt to the religion of Jesus is the desire for a new age.
Instinctively we prefer our own age and so we read talk of the Second Coming through a lens of fear; “I better behave or I will be in trouble.” But the Gospel actually proposes to change our instinct so that we may read the Advent of Christ through a lens of promise.
What he promises is a life beyond all the dead ends we see in the life of our own age. If we were to count up the personal, relational, cultural, climactic, and political ways in which we do not see a way forward, we might feel quite hemmed in. Here faith intervenes to say that what seems like a solid wall now will yield before the plan of God. Honesty demands that we name the dead ends and all the pain they cause us, and faith asks us at the same time to acknowledge a reality beyond them. This is the promise of Jesus in all its living reality. I always think the Berlin Wall offers the best image for Advent, inevitability toppled.
Once we understand this, then, His future Advent becomes a real object of desire, and even now we see His
teaching in a new light. We begin to recognize the Sermon on the Mount not as the way to keep our nose clean but as a disclosure of how people will in fact behave in the world that is coming. Indeed, Christ has left us the
sacramental life as a pledge of what lies beyond the walls of this mortal life. Sacraments are a way of seeing and seeing beyond, and so they teach us how to hope. Vigilance born of hope, not fear, means that we live now so as to be ready to belong to that time. We are bold enough to want more than getting in to Heaven, we seek to be at home in it.
Perhaps this talk sounds funny coming from the Church, for we expend so much energy in conserving our theological, artistic, and liturgical heritage. Sometimes religion does become a servant of nostalgia for the seeming coherence of former ages. Occasionally our outlook is so curatorial as to give the impression that we might dread the Second Coming simply because it will mess up the ritual. But in fact all that we have received from the past comes to us as a platform for hope. What God has enabled us to achieve offers a pledge of what He will exceed; just as our current sacramental perception of Him promises to yield before the unobstructed encounter with
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Indeed, Advent revolutionizes Christmas in just this way. So often we celebrate Christmas as an exercise in nostalgia for things past, the Church’s and our own. These are days when memory comes to console or to open wounds. But the complete experience of Christ leaves us with an active nostalgia for what has not yet happened. Every year at this time we unpack so much familiar stuff from the boxes in our attics and the crannies of our minds. Indeed, the rituals and the objects, the sounds and the tastes of Christmas offer an anchor amidst change. But Christ is more reliable, and the world He brings will be happier.
I run forth because I have a destination that gives focus to my mind and velocity to my steps.
May the magic of the season help us to remember where we haven’t yet been.