First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013
Sister Carol J. Crater, SHF
The story is told of a little boy, alone in his bedroom when the lightning starts flashing and the thunder booming. He whimpers alone for a while, and finally has to get up and run to his parents’ room. “Mommy, I’m scared,” he says. Not really wanting to start a habit of letting him sleep with them whenever he gets scared, she comforts him by reminding him that Jesus is his friend, and is with him all the time, so he’s never alone. “I know that, Mommy,” he replies. “But tonight I want someone with skin.”
Last week we celebrated not just the Feast of Christ the King, but the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” I think I know how that little boy felt. Our universe is making news these days, as astronomical observations and revelations in quantum mechanics become items for slow days on the 6:00 news — “Did that comet burn up in the sun or not? Film at 11.” But discoveries about particle physics often raise more questions than they answer, and create mystery upon mystery in a universe that is not only expanding but expanding faster and faster.
And we are asked to believe that the God of all this magnificence — the author/artist/creator of it all — is the one to whom we pray for our daily bread. I have to wonder sometimes if the God of all the galaxies — 1500 galaxies in a piece of sky the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length — well, what can he know of bread, or of human need or of sickness and pain and violence, of death and grieving?
I remember my time in Juneau, Alaska, where it rains a whole lot. Our rare sunny days there were like God’s magnificence and glory, sun blazing down on the diamond-sparkling waters of the Gastineau channel and on the blindingly white snow-capped mountains — awesome! But our rainy days were like our gentle caressing God, with the mists and clouds and fog weaving between the islands, between the mountains, between the trees, between the branches, between even the leaves and needles of the trees, getting as close as possible to this earth — as if God could not get enough of us.
The end of our liturgical year, with all its pomp and grandeur, awakens in me a longing for the closeness of God in those simpler days in Alaska, the glory of Christ the King touches in me a hunger for a God not of glory and triumph but of tenderness and intimacy, not a lightning bolt or a comet or a shooting star, but — well, someone with skin.
And then suddenly it’s Advent, and we find the God/Lord/Creator of the Universe making his home in the universe, in the sleepy little backwaters of planet earth, this third rock from the sun in the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy. And we find that he does know about bread and human need and sickness and pain and violence and death and grief.
My reflection today is not an exposition of all of today’s readings, but rather an introduction to the flavor of this whole season. Listen to the prayers and songs and readings from now until Christmas, and note how often there are references to home, to house, to dwelling, and broader references to welcome and comfort and a sense of belonging or well-being. We sisters kind of tune in to such language as we work to get ready for our own new homes. And on Christmas, our Gospel reading speaks of a God who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. If that isn’t graphic enough, an older translation read that God “pitched his tent among us.” That’s really down to earth!
We hunger for a God who is near to us — can it be an accident that when there was no room in the inn, the King of the Universe slept in a feeding trough, to fill our hunger? And to fill our deeper hunger, he left as his abiding presence with us the sacrament in which he becomes our bread and wine. Could that be an accident?
Ours is no distant clockwork God. In fact, I wonder if he might have created the universe precisely to be his own home, to inhabit and furnish and walk around in. The Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas time is a great theological mystery, but it might be as simple as the Lord of the Universe building himself a home where all are welcome.