I’m sure you occasionally have a day when everything goes right. You speak and people understand you. Somehow, you just miss the worst of the traffic on the freeway, and the bosses see that you showed up to work early. They take the occasion to tell you they appreciate the work you do. On your lunch break someone stops you on the street to compliment you on your clothing.
On such days, the goodness of creation seems self-evident.
But am I wrong in saying that those days don’t come as often as we’d like them?
Most days, it seems to me, we are aware of the San Andreas Fault that runs through the heart of life. There is a chasm between how things are and how they should be. And often I myself am implicated in the creaking widening of that chasm. It’s my impatience that spoils the day for someone else. It’s my insensitivity. It’s my appalling ignorance about so many important aspects of life.
I know that this, alas, is the common human condition. I can’t say that such knowledge brings me comfort. I’m more concerned knowing that the world is populated by souls like mine!
The readings for Advent — especially from the Old Testament prophets — show a keen awareness of the mess the world is in. The prophets describe environmental dysfunction, social disorder and familial breakdown, and they trace it all back to human sin.
Even people who are struggling to be good can get caught up in the problems created by the schemes of the wicked. In Southern California, we know how this works. We live with the metaphor. Even though we’re not to blame for it, the San Andreas Fault is still “our fault.” We’ve inherited it. We have to live with it. And we thank God for the technology that, every year, makes our buildings a little better able to withstand the effects of our Fault.
It’s harder to avoid the effects of sin. And that’s why the prophets cry out for a redeemer — someone to arrive, anointed by heaven for the purpose of rescuing the world from the inevitable catastrophes we seem to be bringing down on ourselves.
In the time of Jesus, such feelings were intense. Look at Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38). They spent their days at the Temple, in fasting and prayer, begging God that they might see the day of salvation.
Think about the Magi. They devoted themselves to study and watched the heavens for omens. They are known to all of history as “wise men.”
Yet it wasn’t a matter of education or opportunity. Poor shepherds, too, were visited by angels because they knew hardship — and they longed to be relieved of it.
Those who had wisdom were able to see the signs. Yet the unrepentant were not. The unrepentant were unwise. Think of Herod, one of the richest men in the world. Yet he was consumed by selfishness, lust, fear, and a murderous hunger for power. Universally loathed, he feared for his life and killed his own wife and children. He expected a Messiah, but he knew that the dawn of righteousness would mean the undoing of despots like him. So he took up a horrific campaign to destroy the redeemer in the crib of infancy.
Even though our days of hardship far outnumber our days of ease and luxury, it’s better for us to stand in the cold with the shepherds than in the palace with Herod.
The prayer of the ages is the Advent prayer we find, still relevant, in the very last lines of the Bible — the lines that describe the end of history: Come, Lord Jesus!
Let’s live Advent, then, with gusto, and sing the songs that are in season.
O come, thou wisdom from on high,
Who ord’rest all things mightily.
To us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in her ways to go.
That prayer will always be in season, till we are wise ourselves — till we are fully redeemed — and we see for ourselves the Messiah, whom the Wise Men saw.