The New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat is a conservative commentator on life as well as a practicing Catholic. In his recent newsletter he speaks about an Advent experience of someone who enters deeply into the the promise of a Messiah and the hard reality of what is expected of us should we say “yes” to the Savior.Douthat writes:
Advent is a season of half-light. The days are short, the night encroaches, twilight seems to start just after noon. It’s a season when many of us reach the seeming end of our capacities — too much to do and buy, too many memories and obligations, and this year, especially, too much illness. (I’m writing this on the 10th day of the flu’s infestation of our home.) It’s a season that looks forward to light, revelation and redemption. But there are so many uncertainties. Will the revelation come? Will it satisfy us? Will it save us? Will we somehow miss it? Will it be what we expected, or otherwise? Will it be birth, or death, or both?
In Advent we can be caught between our anxieties. On one hand, the fear that the world will not be redeemed, that it will just go on sinking into twilight, that winter is coming for us all, the cold and frost and the skull beneath the skin. (“Nothing can save us that is possible,” Auden finishes. “We who must die demand a miracle.”) On the other, the fear that any great change or revelation will be an apocalypse for our comforts and expectations and existing way of life — that it will require too much, cost too much, change too much, unmake too much.
You don’t know, after all, what will be asked of you if the stakes suddenly go up, if a new phase of history is knocking at the door. Maybe you’re the rejoicing shepherds, but maybe you’re Herod or his soldiers. Maybe you’ll be shown a baby in a manger; maybe you’ll be asked to bear a cross. Safer, maybe, to remain with the twilight instead — if only you could be sure it wouldn’t turn to dark.
I think that it is always easy to lose the “hard edge” to Advent given the warm glow of our Christmases past. Douthat asks hard questions of us: “Will it satisfy us?” Will it “require too much of us, change too much, unmake too much.”
No need to rush to these questions… not yet. Enjoy the holy days and good cheer, but soon enough come the days after when twilight seems to come too early and dawn seems hover just past the edge of darkness. Will this Christmas and its Advent have changed us?
Image credit: Pexel