Today is the third Tuesday of Advent and the third installment in our Preaching Series. The topic is desire and longing, which I’d like to approach by way of what is sometimes called the Third Advent. The First Advent was the coming of Jesus 2000 years ago, the Incarnation. A physical, human presence that could be seen and heard and touched. We are now waiting for the Second Advent, that is, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in glory, on clouds descending, every eye beholding.
Of course, Christ is not confined to the past or the future; all time and eternity belong to Christ. Christ comes to us even now, in this life: the Third Advent. In the Gospel of John, as we heard, Jesus promises not only to be with them, but to be in them. We are in him; he is in us. He is the light of the world, the light of all people. Christ comes to us, abides in us, even now.
In the Brothers’ Rule of Life, in the Chapter on “Mission and Service” , we put it this way: “Christ is already present in the life of everyone as the light of the world. It is our joy to serve all those to whom we are sent by helping them to embrace that presence in faith.” In the same paragraph we say: “Our mission is to bring men, women and children into closer union with God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit that he breathes into us.” So the Brothers offer this celebration of the Eucharist to fulfill our mission: to help us all embrace the presence of Christ within us and to come to know a closer union with God in Christ. That is our mission.
Being a Christian is in some ways about giving intellectual assent to certain ideas about God. But it is more than that: it is coming to be aware of, coming to know the presence of the Light of the World, the Light of Lights, that is, Christ himself, within us. Around us, yes. Beside us, yes. Above and below us, yes. But, most of all, in us–not only with us, but in us—and we in him.
He in us and we in him: this is sometimes called co-inherence or mutual indwelling. We can be more aware or less aware of this mutual indwelling. Our awareness can wax and wane over time, even through the course of a day. Our Rule of Life [Chapter 12] calls us to obedience to the indwelling Christ, that is, a posture of attentive listening to, and growing awareness of, the indwelling Christ. (Our understanding of obedience is enriched by the word’s Latin etymology, which has to do with listening.)
Chapter 12, “The Spirit of Obedience”, begins this way: “The Gospel of John will teach us to experience obedience as the growing freedom to love all that God desires and wills.” All that God desires and wills. I think what this means in practice is that as we grow in obedience or attentiveness to the indwelling Christ, our desire and our longing merge with Christ’s own desire and longing. There is a convergence of our desire and longing with Christ’s desire and longing. Ours become his, his become ours. We in him, he in us.
What I think Christ desires, what I think Christ longs for, can be stated very simply: the well-being of all people. To the extent that we desire and long for the well-being of all people, our desire and longing have converged with the desire and longing of Christ. Julian of Norwich famously said (quoting Jesus in a vision to her): “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well indeed.” To the extent that we join Christ in his longing for the well-being of all people—and all manner of things–our desires and longing have merged with his.
The well-being of all people–in this life and the next. That means provision of at least the basic necessities: food to eat and clothes to wear and a warm and safe place to live. It means political freedom, freedom from all yokes of tyranny and bondage. It means the freedom and opportunity to explore the vast range of capacities that belong to our humanity. It means enjoying the mutual respect and affection of others. It means being co-creators with God of a world that measures up to the dignity of our humanity. It means being healed of all infirmity. It means forgiveness for all wrong-doing.
This is what Christ desires for us, I believe. At least part of it: Christ’s vision of our well-being and wholeness is beyond anything we can ask or imagine.
I’m reminded of those words of Isaiah quoted by Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Luke 4 18-19] I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to disciples of John the Baptist: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
This is all about the well-being of people—in this life. But Christ’s desire and longing are not confined to his throne of majesty in heaven: the almighty Word leaps down from that throne into these frail hearts of ours. His desire, his longing, makes a home in us. His desire, his longing makes a home in us and begins to work in and through us. We become the hands that do the things that make desires come to fruition, bringing life and well-being to real people like you and me. He makes us his partners in making all things well.
Many people today, people who might otherwise be well off, experience a crisis of meaning in their lives. “What can all this mean? Is life worth all the trouble?” Well, there is meaning in a life in union with God, in partnership with God in making all things well.
Of course, life is complicated. I’m reminded of a Peanuts cartoon I came across a long time ago. I think it’s Charlie Brown who says: “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” Which may remind us of the French philosopher Sartre’s famous quip: “L’enfer: c’est les autres!” Hell is other people!
We can be very challenging to one another. It can be difficult to sustain charitable feelings in the sometimes very complicated emotional landscapes we inhabit. We are, after all, broken and incomplete. And yet, Christ’s desire and longing for the well-being of all persist in resonating within us, although it can be difficult to hear through the cacophony of our own inner lives. Which is why we need to listen attentively and intentionally.
Our own personal desires and longings have a legitimate place as well—Christ desires our well-being just as much as anyone else’s. It’s a matter of focus and balance—in our weakness we can become very self-absorbed. But there is such a thing as a healthy and holy concern for one’s own well-being.
We are in him and he in us. His desires and longings live in us, his voice resonates in us. As we listen to that voice, his desires become ours, his longings become ours. What could be more meaningful than to know Christ present in our hearts, to know his desires and longings? Well, I suppose, to be willing to do something, to be willing to be his hands in bringing about the well-being of all—even if all we have to offer is a few barley loaves and a couple of fish [John 6:9]. Christ can multiply even the smallest loaves and puniest fish.
May we hear his voice ever more clearly; may we know and claim the heartbeat of his desire and longing—and know it as our very own. Until the day; until the day which dimly shines; until every word we speak is benediction, until every deed a blessing. Until every word we speak is his benediction; until every deed of ours is his blessing.
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