Take the path that leads inward through the days of Advent. Set aside for yourself, if it is possible, time to breathe in; time to stop feeling that you’re on the run or under stress. Allow something to happen inside you. Turn your thoughts and hopes to the things that count.
I am standing, in my mind’s eye, at the gates of a noble old church, inviting you to celebrate the feast of hope we call Advent. From time immemorial, the essence of this festive season has been connected with the thought that somewhere, somehow, there are doors that need to be opened in our lives. Doorways to freedom – to a fuller life – to salvation.
At Advent we sing, “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!” – and with these words we affirm that none of us lives in a completely sealed space. We each have in us a door that can be opened, a door through which we can step into a new and different room; or a door through which something can come to us – for instance, an awareness of a world greater than our own.
And we can actually walk through these doors, knowing that on the other side there is something waiting for us; something about to arrive and enter our lives. Advent. The word implies that something is approaching us.
As Christians we do not believe in walls, but that life lies open before us; that the gate can always be unbarred; that there is no final abandonment or desertion. We do not believe that it can ever be “too late.” We believe that the world is full of doors that can be opened. Between us and others. Between the people around us. Between today and tomorrow. Our own inner person can be unlocked too: even within our own selves, there are doors that need to be opened.
There, for me, lies the meaning of the grand old portals of the church. If we open them and enter, we can unlock ourselves, too, and so await whatever is coming to free us and make us whole.
Once we enter the gates of Advent, we enter a season of silence. Of course, that is hardly true today. In earlier times people went through it step by step, as the days grew shorter and the nights longer, until, in the midst of the darkness, they received the Mystery.
Today this experience has been lost for many, if not most. It has been overwhelmed by lights, drowned out by noise, overrun with emptiness, busyness, restlessness. The feast it leads up to, which was once a real source of strength, has become a time of inner and outer exhaustion.
Christmas pictures tend to show the Child in a cozy manger, replete with his beautiful mother and a reliable father-figure poised in a dreamlike stall. Yet many of us live in a world in which our anxieties cannot be stilled with a romantic tale. Inwardly homeless, we are driven once a year to the edge of Christ’s own feast to find only the sentiments and memories of childhood. But that is not the meaning of the Christmas story.
Translated from Jörg Zink, Türen zum Fest. Verlag am Eschbach, 2010. Used with permission.
Stained glass image by Valentin Feuerstein, 1917-1999. Copyright 2010 Verlag am Eschbach. Used with permission.