Advent: Embrace Each Wintry Moment

Advent: Embrace Each Wintry Moment

A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lordmake straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

By Benedictine Oblate Spencer Gillespie

I admit it.  I’m one of those rare people who genuinely loves winter. There are a few of us! 

We’re not just taking a minority view in order to be different. We actually find new life and joy in the unique gifts that this much-maligned season brings.

I love the lower beams of winter’s sun, which give new perspective to landscapes once overwhelmed by the intensity of summer’s brightness.

I love the intricate silhouettes of barren trees standing bravely against the pale blues and grays of winter’s evening skies. 

I love the return of the cold, and with it a renewed friendship with well-worn woolen sweaters and the companionship of thick blankets and comforters at bedtime.

I love the winter welcome of a warm home at the end of a cold day, a greeting made all the more inviting if the air should happen to be filled with the aroma of stew cooking or apples baking. 

I love the darkness, which magnifies the mystery and power of something so simple and small as the light of single candle. What on a summer’s evening might glow without notice becomes, on a long winter’s night, a bright beacon of hope.

I love the silence of the wintry world, especially after a newly-fallen snow, as nature and people hibernate. It awakens one’s senses to listen to the gentler melodies around and within and to cherish those qualities in one’s life.

And I suppose this may be why the Advent season has always been my favorite in the liturgical year.

Not only does it ride in annually with winter’s return, it invites us to enter more fully into the depths of wonder and mystery that are intricately woven into the very fabric of the universe – a wonder and mystery that are experienced perhaps most authentically in the wintry places in our lives. 

Every year that prophet of Advent, Isaiah, invites the people of God to leave the noise and distraction, the heat and competition, the crowding and boisterousness of the city – the city of their captivity - to go deliberately to the wilderness, to the place of barrenness and loneliness, of silence and coldness, of seeming lifelessness and hopelessness – to the place of utter emptiness. 


So that they might witness in that stark setting nothing less than the full brightness and liberating strength of Divine Love. 

Isaiah invites them to the wilderness to make a way for the Holy One.

Not that the Holy One needs a path!  Divine Love is making its way of mercy with or without their efforts. 

They’re simply invited to be fully present so that they might be part of it and give witness to it even before any visible “results” can be seen.

Every year around this time we are told to prepare the way for the Coming One by confessing our sins, doing good works, engaging in intentional acts of self-giving, being more faithful in prayer, avoiding over-indulgence, and the like. 

Such admonitions are appropriate and worthy of our attention. 

But Isaiah is pointing toward something fundamentally deeper, richer and potentially more life-giving. 

He invites us deliberately to enter the wilderness, the place of utter emptiness, not to do something that will make the Divine Coming possible (as if we had the power to accomplish or coax such a thing).

His declaration is more compelling: God is coming in power and glory. If you want to be part of it, then go to that empty, lonely, most deserted and hopeless place, for that is precisely where the liberating power of Divine Love may be discovered most astonishingly. You need only to be present and open to it. 

I find that to be the most hope-filled message we might ever hope to hear. We don’t have to go far to find that barren landscape, do we? We live in the midst of it!

We bristle against the cold winds of rising nationalism and the return of international suspicion and distrust, as new barriers are built between nations and arms races gather force. 

We stumble in the darkness of rising fears: fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of terrorism, fear of ourselves.

We cower in the lengthening shadows of increasing inequality, of unabated racism, of runaway violence on a planet that we are destroying. 

We wander among the rocks of hyper-individualism, of myopic selfishness, and nonstop distraction. 

And each of us carries within ourselves the barrenness and poverty of our own hearts.

And into this bleakness come Advent and its hope: This wintry place precisely is where the Holy One is coming in life-giving love!  

Live there.  Remain there.  Hope there.  Love there. 

Embrace each wintry moment and ask for the eyes to see and the ears to hear: each one is filled with Divine Love. 

And if there is any “work” for us to do, it is to align ourselves with that Coming One, who emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and gave himself completely in love of God and God’s creation.

Comments (1)

  1. Carolyn Gray:
    Dec 18, 2018 at 05:15 PM

    Certainly, Spencer, this is such nourishing food for my soul. You've put words to some of the thoughts that run through my mind, but you spend time with them and relish them and expand your enjoyment of them. I will use this to try to enter into a deeper awareness of what I'm experiencing, many times on the run. This is no way for me to welcome Advent or to welcome and take time with my Friend. Your reflections have called me back to my center. Thank you!

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