In this Advent meditation Sr Teresa White fcJ finds that even in these bleak days there is a light shining in the darkness. First appeared in The Tablet on 3 December 2020; reproduced here with permission
Joy and hope, gifts of the Spirit, are at the heart of the season of Advent. Global warming may have begun to change our seasonal expectations, yet even so, in December, with nature at her least inviting in the Northern Hemisphere – trees bare, daylight hours at their shortest, weather often bleak, signs of spring mostly invisible – Advent can be a gloomy time. But with Christmas on the near horizon, as children well know, these winter weeks are a time for dreaming dreams, and dreams transform reality, make it hopeful, make it joyful.
It is often in the darkness of midwinter that, as the poet Cavafy says: “The days of our future stand in front of us / like a row of little lit candles / golden, warm, and lively little candles”.
As we look forward to Christmas, the candles of Advent inspire us to make preparations for the coming of Jesus, to make changes in our lives to prove the sincerity of our desire to welcome him. Advent is when the changes begin; Christmas is when life is renewed.
Of course, it’s not just physical warmth and light that we long for. In whatever part of the planet we happen to live, we all have our dark moments, our personal sorrows and concerns, our fears and anxieties for our country, to say nothing of the problems of the wider world which are thrust into our consciousness by the media. This year, as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic continues to hang over us, there seems to be a universal longing for healing, for comfort, for peace of mind and heart. The perennial Advent themes are more relevant than ever, as we long for the promise of God to be fulfilled.
Isaiah’s poetic vision of a God of comfort dominates the Scripture readings of this season. His words emphasise the divine transcendence and holiness while at the same time assuring us that God is not remote and inaccessible: God is with us in all that happens to us, a constant companion on the journey of life. The prophet is charged to say to the faint-hearted: “Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming … to save you.” (Isaiah 35: 4). In the second part of his prophecy, Isaiah’s vocation to comfort God’s people is unequivocal, and his most compelling words are contained in the opening sentences of chapter 40: “‘Console my people, console them,’ says your God. ‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended …’” Life is not always affirming, but in the midst of suffering and hardship, we are not alone. God’s solidarity with us brings comfort and hope.
The wisdom of the Advent season leads us to see that we are not simply at the mercy of the problems and struggles that we have to face every day of our lives. These things do not ultimately define us. We realise this when we revisit the deeper questions about who we are and what we are here for. As Ladislaus Boros SJ reminds us: “New and unexpected things can always rise up out of our lives because there is, despite all the anxiety and unhappiness that surrounds us, a hidden source of salvation in the world that can begin to flow at any time. Something that is bright and pure and not simply superstitious or wildly enthusiastic is proclaimed in this Christmas mood. It is that, despite all the evidence that exists in the world as we know it, there is a way from darkness into light: there is a light shining in the darkness of the night.”
Sr Teresa White fcJ is former teacher and has spent many years in the ministry of spirituality at Katherine House FCJ, a retreat centre in Salford. Her book, Hope and the Nearness of God: The Lent Book 2022, will be published by Bloomsbury on 9 December. Read other contributions by Teresa on this website.