I wrote this post last December right at the beginning of Advent season (see the original post here on my old blog). I reread it last night as a part of the preparation for Christmas that I am now beginning, and thought it was worth revisiting:
I heard a wonderful sermon this morning. Title: "On Hiding." At the moment of the First Tragedy, when man first disobeyed God, man hid.
In his temptation speech, the serpent promises that eating the forbidden fruit will make man like God. God knew all about good and evil; if we, too, knew about it, we would be just like Him. But evil always, always lies.
Adam and Eve immediately felt shame. Pastor Thompson said this morning that shame is what we feel when we're made painfully aware of the vast disparity between our idealized self and our actual self. The chasm between the two is so wide. Adam and Eve had been promised they would be like God Himself; I cannot imagine their horror when they realized how little like God they were. They had never been aware of their own smallness, their own weakness, the vast difference between mighty God and puny man. The shame must have been unbearable. They must have hidden out of desperation and agony. Having suddenly and all at once seen the full difference between myself and God, I would have tried to bury myself underground.
We need to talk about this story before we begin the preparations of the Advent season. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily on the first Sunday of Advent in 2008, "Advent is the spiritual season of hope par excellence, and in this season the whole Church is called to be hope, for itself and for the world. The whole spiritual organism of the mystical body assumes, as it were, the 'color' of hope." What is the story behind this hope? Hope for what?
It is the fire that has burned within man since the fall of the first couple - the ache to close the gap between ourselves as we wish we were and ourselves as we are, the ache to regain the closeness between man and God we know we should enjoy, and the longing to forsake the burden of the incessant game of hide and seek our shame makes us play.
The Church has created the four weeks of Advent for the mystical body of Christ to assume the color of hope. The shame of the past year is meant to be felt in this time, but only so we can understand what occurred on the first Christmas morning. At this time it is essential that we meditate on what comes to us in the Christ Child. Our shame is lifted. We are coaxed out of hiding. And although we walk in the knowledge of our massive inferiority to the God we could never hope to resemble, Jesus bestows upon us the fullness of his own righteousness. We are not brought out from the hiding place to stand guiltily before God with our heads bowed like a disobedient child whose parent has decided his child's shame is punishment enough - we are brought out before God to look Him directly in the eye and embrace, to be celebrated, adored, cherished and loved. There is no more shame. There is no more chasm.
Has anyone ever felt this gift in fullness? Has anyone truly spent a day in full belief that his every sin and weakness is nullified? I do not know. Maybe this gift is one we will not be able to fully understand until death. But as I enter this Advent season, the joy of the hope of Christ wells up within me and overflows. What is the color of hope? It looks like celebration, rejoicing, feasting, behaving generously, carrying a song in one's heart - and even making our homes shine and sparkle, having parties, staying up late, filling the neighborhood with light and music.
Sometimes the best we can do is to behave as if this promise was true. Even in the bleakest of my Advent seasons, the mystery of this hopeful time has caught me off guard with a rush of tears in the middle of a church service, or when I'm sitting alone late at night in the still glow of Christmas lights. Perhaps we cannot make our feeble selves aware of the weight of this miracle. That is okay. God is only too happy to step in and lead us through it. And so we celebrate, and we wait. We make our best music, dress our children and our selves in our finest clothes, feast on the richest food, open our homes to our dearest friends and family. It is in man's custom to respond to joy in this way. This is how we assume the color of hope. This is how we celebrate Christmas.