First Sunday of Advent Hymn Meditation

“Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear…”

This Advent hymn truly captures, with both words and its fittingly wandering tune, the sense of longing that is at the root of the season. After centuries of waiting, the people of God are about to experience a miracle and have their lives changed, irrevocably and forever.

We don’t see waiting as positive, do we? When we wait in line at a shop, when we wait for someone to come visit, when we wait for a paycheck to arrive—all of that involves already living in the next moment, and not experiencing this one. We live in what Henri Nouwen has called clock time: “Clock time is chronos time. It is a kind of time in which we always live as if the real thing is going to happen tomorrow, in which the recent moment is always empty, does not hold anything.”

But the Church has given us four Sundays to wait for Christmas—and there’s a reason for that. The act and feeling of longing is as important to our spiritual lives as the act and feeling of joy we anticipate.

Kenneth Carder has likened the longing of Advent to a longing for home:

When the Hebrew slaves were in Egypt, God saw their misery, heard their cries, felt their suffering and sent Moses to lead them home, to a land flowing with milk and honey.

The people of Judah mourned in lonely exile in Babylon, separated from family, their temple, their familiar songs and liturgies. They longed for home. Longing for home is deeply embedded in the human psyche. It is an innate hunger, buried deeper even than our memories or imaginings. It is a yearning for the best of what has been and the anticipation of what can be. (Kenneth L. Carder: Advent, and the longing for home)

We have waited for this event for our entire lives, our entire history. And in these four Sundays before Christmas, it is almost—almost!—here.

It is closer now than it was when you began reading this meditation.

by Jeanette de Beouvoir