The enduring nearness of God is the ultimate message of Advent

Father John A. Kiley

The spiritual life of the Christian is often depicted as a search for God. “Seek always His face,” the Psalmist advises. Jeremiah concurs with these words, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” His fellow prophet Isaiah certainly agrees, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Jesus himself speaks on the need to search for God, “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” And, even more pointedly, Jesus instructs, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things will be added to you.”

Clearly, an element of human ambition and personal drive are integral to the authentic Christian life. The merchant sold all that he had to purchase the pearl of great price; the widow would not rest until she had found her lost coin. Yet believers err if they understand spirituality to be primarily their search for an elusive God rather than their discovery of God who is already interested in them. As St. Paul observes in Acts, “Indeed he is not far from any one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our very being.’”

With all the great figures of the Old and New Testaments, it is a nearby God who takes the initiative in transforming their lives. In Eden, it was God who came in the breezy time of the day to converse with Adam and Eve. In Mesopotamia, God introduced himself to Abraham and urged him to migrate to Canaan. It was God who wrestled with Jacob at the hallowed spot named Bethel. God was the one who called Samuel in the middle of the night, much to the prophet’s surprise. God called David from the pasture to be selected as the successor to Saul. God caught Mary completely by surprise when he invited her to be the mother of his Son. God put Joseph’s mind at ease by explaining Mary’s virginal conception. The Son of God took the initiative with Peter, Andrew, James and John, and with Paul as well, when he altered their lives with an invitation to follow him.

The enduring nearness of God to all his sons and daughters is the ultimate message of Advent. God the Father in the Old Testament was God who comes – comes to the unsuspecting, and often hapless Jews — through the prophets, through the Law, through temple liturgies. The fidelity of God to his people, the closeness of God to his people, was unwavering. They had only to open their eyes and hearts to perceive him already present to them. Alas, they often sought fulfillment elsewhere. God the Son in the New Testament is again God who comes, comes in history through his birth in the flesh two thousand years ago, God who continues to come through his Church whenever the Gospel is preached and wherever his sacraments are celebrated. The nearness of Christ to his spouse the Church is absolute.

God the Son is furthermore God who comes in the broadest sense, with the widest mercy. St. John writes that a universal light “was coming into the world.” God the Son was that “true light, which enlightens everyone.” Believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians, are all within the scope of God’s providence. Clearly, while the broadness of God’s mercy should never be an excuse for dismissing the ordinary means of salvation found in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, God excludes none of his children from the knowledge of him. No one is remote from the perennial and pervasive love of God, “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him.”

The advent of God, the coming of God, the nearness of God, is not a mere summons to soul searching, introspection and self-analysis. Although God is close to the heart of every man and woman, throughout history God has always employed his angels, his prophets, his Church and his saints to assist mankind in discerning the immanent presence of God. The Bible, the sacraments, Christian fellowship, Church teachings, spiritual reading, lives of the saints, pious devotions, honest living and a just society all heighten the soul’s awareness of God and dull the attraction of false gods. Christians fortunate enough to enjoy these calls from God must not ignore them — nor should they fail to share them with their neighbors.