Watching for the light

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In 1944 on the first Sunday in Advent, Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest incarcerated in a Nazi prison on charges of high treason against the Third Reich, offered the following reflection on the gospel text:

“There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than being genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it.”

He goes on to talk about how, from where he sits on death row, it seems to him that “[w]e have stood on this earth in false pathos, in false security …”

“[I]n our own spiritual insanity we really believed we could, with the power of our own hand and arm, bring the stars down from heaven and kindle flames of eternity in the world. We believed that with our own forces we could avert the dangers and banish night, switch off and halt the internal quaking of the universe. We believed we could harness everything and fit it into a final order that would stand.”

But, of course, this did not work out. “The hope of Advent,” he writes, “is that we will, well and truly, be shaken up.”

“Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to the realization of ourselves. The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force — by force, in much pain and suffering.”

While there is no comparison between 1944 and 2021, we are, once again, at a time in history when we need to be shaken up. We need to see the false security and spiritual insanity that has infected our world, and to ask, once again, for God to break in, to wake us up, and to become incarnate in us and in the world.

Being shattered (being awakened) is a prerequisite for Advent. It’s a prerequisite to recognizing and incarnating the presence of God in the world — for recognizing God, who is always and everywhere birthing something new.

“I see Advent this year with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way, with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and different understanding of God’s promise of redemption and release.”

Delp goes on to write that as he marked Advent in his cell, it became clear to him that Advent is about listening for angels. Not the loud angels of rejoicing that will overcome the shepherds at Christmas, but the quiet angels of annunciation “speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish….”

“[S]cattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, calling us to hope…. Quiet, inconspicuous, they come into rooms and before hearts as they did then. Quietly they bring God’s questions and proclaim to us the wonders of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”

May your journey through this Advent season knowing that for God, nothing is impossible.

Alfred Delp’s full Advent reflection, “The Shaking Reality of Advent,” can be found in the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing House, 2001).

Author

  • Anna Greenwood-Lee is the 14th bishop of the Diocese of British Columbia and the first woman to hold that position.