Usually articles in the Catholic Press during Advent start with quotes from the prophet Isaiah who promised a light will shine in the darkness or Amos who foretold that Bethlehem would be the birth city of the Messiah.
This short reflection begins on the seaside in Ireland, a strand as it is called there. James Joyce, one of Ireland’s best and most challenging authors, eloquently writes of the innate longing in every human heart for the absolute, the unknowable, the eternal, the ultimate.
In The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Joyce tries to put the insatiable desires of youth into words. “On and on and on he strode far over the strand, crying wildly to greet the advent of life which first had cried to him.”
A similar expressing of longing for the unnamed holy comes in Rainer Marie Rilke’s “Letter to a Young Poet.” In response to a question about life from an aspiring poet, Rilke answers, “For now live the questions. Don’t be concerned about the answers.”
If we can get past the Hallmark and Walmart versions of Christmas and even go deeper than the parish and school nativity pageants, something powerful happens in the Advent Season.
The one who is power itself came among us. He is the God we await and prepare for. He is the one who is powerful enough to stir our wild cry for meaning on the strands of life. Our God, incarnate in Jesus, is the one fulfilling enough to embrace our questions and lead us into a relationship with God — the ultimate answer to every yearning of the human heart. This is Incarnation, yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is all around us, crying in hope, aching with yearning, bearing questions and believing answers. God is both question and answer in the people and realities of life.
The country of Israel was beset during Thanksgiving week with wild fires, to such a degree that nations from around the world sent in help with fire equipment and fire fighters. The Palestinians responded along with the others and sent in teams of firefighters. As they were going into one village a woman cried out, “Thank you for coming. We are one. This is the way it should be.” The woman’s remarks seemed like the modern day version of Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares,” or a contemporary John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” In this woman was the cry of hope and peace which are written large in Christmas cards and small in governmental decisions. She was able to see goodness in the fire fighter who others claimed was her enemy. The message of the Incarnation must be heard in everyday life so it can be proclaimed in our churches or places of worship. Pope Francis tells us that “Seeking the Face of God has always been a part of our human history.” (Vultum Dei, 7/22/2016)
This is Christmas. It is our Feast of seeking and yearning for the face of God in our everyday life. It is continual searching and finding, questioning and answering. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. Christmas is the Feast of God seeking and yearning for us. It is the Feast of God meeting and running towards us over the strands of our daily routines.
The least we can do is notice him this Christmas. In the glance between us will be the deepest questions and answers our hearts ever sought. We may even find ourselves running over the strand to greet him who first greeted us.
Sister Patricia McCarthy is provincial for the Congregation of Notre Dame. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.