Third Week of Advent

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I once met a young businessman from a very troubled part of the world. I noticed that in an earlier conversation with others about the political situation he kept aloof and said nothing. Later, alone, he told me that he didn’t do politics because ‘they (politicians) are all the same’. I thought, well they are the same inasmuch as they are all imperfect; but their way and degree of being imperfect is not the same. I asked him how his business was going and he brightened up. ‘It’s going very well. Hard, risky. But you can do very good business in a crisis’. It was for me the saddest point of my visit and threw a lurid light on the future of our broken democracies.

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I was similarly surprised when people tell me that they didn’t vote in the recent US election because ‘one side was as bad as the other’. Reflection on the meaning of Advent should throw light on all dimensions of our life – not only the interior and solitary but also the ways we are obliged to interact responsibly in the world. Most moral decisions – and all decisions are moral – are not black and white. Many situations, especially in this post-truth world where extremism is rising, force us to choose the lesser of two evils. The greater evil, linked to moral cowardice, could be not to choose at all because we are waiting for a perfect set of circumstances to arrive to match our prescription of reality.

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Keeping Advent trains us in realism. We choose to wait – without fantasy – for a good that will never fit into a packaged scenario of our imagination. We learn to believe in a good beyond what we can desire. We await a degree of goodness, of plenitude that has already begun to influence us from the first time we hear about the good news. We may dismiss it as myth or false consolation, not worthy of a modern sceptical rationalist. Or we may get impatient and doubt it will ever break through. But if we get the Advent spirit we learn what it means to ‘wait in joyful hope’ as one of the prayers of the Advent liturgy puts it.

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Joyful hope is not the same as celebrating an arrival, a homecoming. The time dimension hasn’t yet been penetrated by the eternity that sweeps up and unifies all dimensions including those we have not yet discovered. Chronology has not yet been bathed in ontology. Doing the daily stuff has not yet been illuminated by the radiance of being. Just knowing that all this is yet to come lifts the spirit and gives encourages us to engage with the hard decisions of the times.

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But at least we’re getting there. Knowing that much strengthens our trembling knees and saves us from the precipice of cynicism where our only loyalty becomes to ourselves. The delay is only the time it takes us to us to drop over into another kind of precipice by letting go of our defences, to recognise and believe what is coming towards us. In that instant we see that incarnation happens when we stop fantasising and accept reality.

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It is not only the eternal Word that is made flesh. Time and eternity are partners in a marriage. We too need to become incarnate. Then we recognise what we are hurtling towards. We realise that what is coming towards us is also here. It is concealed in its self-revealing until we have been shaken up and transformed by the peaceful collision of Christmas.

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