There is a strange relationship between the words “Advent” and “Adventure.”
“Advent” means “arrival.”
“Adventure” means “voyage into the unknown.”
Both words come from a Latin term for “come,” as is “please come here,” or “please visit us.” Veni Veni Emmanuel is an old Latin hymn which means “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
This is one of my favorite songs of the season, particularly in this time of preparation for the Nativity that we call “Advent.” The words are beautiful:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
All of nature -- including especially human nature -- truly “mourns in lonely exile here” ... here, that is, in the gloominess of a fallen world, where things should be -- but are not -- glowing with the obvious brightness of the Creator’s beauty.
This “mourning” of nature is described by St Paul: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8.19). Only the presence of Christ, and His people who are joined with His Body in communion, can answer the call of Creation, which sings, also: Veni, Veni Emmanuel.
We hear this same heartrending call of invitation in the cry of the poor and the oppressed in the Psalms and the Prophets. We hear it in the poignant verses of the Righteous Job, who stayed true to his hope: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19.25).
We hear it in the Gospels. “As Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18.35-38).
This is only one example of many, who naturally called out for Emmanuel to come, to make his Advent known and real, not just anticipated and yearned for. And I should quickly add that only some people -- not all -- had the courage and willingness to hope, to extend outside themselves or to step beyond their ego, and to focus their desire on the One Who can heal, the One Who can save, the One Who can lead through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the One Who knows the way home through the storm, the One Who can restore the beauty of Eden again.
Only some -- not all -- people called out “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” But all the rest of Creation calls for the Son of God, the One Who made them with His hands. The Bethlehem Star represented all the constellations. The Cave represented all the earth. The pool in which the midwife bathed the Christ Child represented the oceans and the streams. The Magi represented all the nations of the world. The shepherds represented the poor and the poor of heart, who alone knew reality enough to cry out for salvation. Joseph represented the aged and the weary, the ones who longed and prayed for too many years. The Virgin represented the Church of all time.
And, you might have known, the sheep and the donkey and the ox represented the beasts and the children, who have no historical voice.
They all longed for Advent, the arrival of God inside the nature of humanity.
So did Christ. So did the Holy Trinity.
If you thought that the Creation longed for Eden Again, in restored communion with the Creator, you’re right.
But that longing is nothing compared to the infinite desire of the Creator for His Creation.
Creation longed for the Advent of Christ.
Christ, on the other hand, longs for you -- and all Creation -- to go on Adventure. He calls you to meet Him in His Grace, to go out into a land that is known to Him but new and unknown to you.
Advent is Christ’s part, but Adventure is ours. “Adventure” means our “stepping out” from our familiar comfort zone to go find Him. In real time and place, Abraham was called out of his hometown of Ur to meet the pre-incarnate Christ in the Promised Land. Moses had to leave his routine sheep-herding: “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed” (Exodus 3.3). Job, a refugee from so many psychic horrors, met the Advent of this same Christ in a tornado -- and what an Adventure that surely had to be. David met Christ in the solitary pastures of his boyhood, in the soul-transcending rhapsodies of his harp, in the glimmering poetic prophecies of his mystic psalms. Solomon, in his inconsistent piety, met Christ in the blue whale depths of wisdom. And the Prophets, who hungered and thirsted so poignantly for righteousness, met Christ in the shining Promise of the Trinitarian hope.
The Magi -- philosophers and scientists of the ancient, forgotten East -- saw the gleam of a new Dayspring in the midnight sky. Toward this Sign of Advent they traveled far, far into the West, in an Adventure of Adventures -- and it is not possible that they returned back home again, for nothing was the same.
Be wise. Be Magi. Jump out of yourself (this is called “ecstasy,” in the old and true sense of the word), take the psychic leap into the Adventure night of the unknown and follow the Light.
Open your spiritual eyes and meet the Advent Presence (i.e., “presents”) of Christ. Receive His free, joyous gift of Himself to you.
Learn to recognize Him: He is Advent all around you. See His face in the face of the people around you -- friend or enemy, neighbor or stranger, familiar or unfamiliar. See and care for His artistry in the world around you, even on an icy grey day or in the grim urban streets. Breathe His air and understand that some of those very molecules of oxygen and nitrogen passed through the human lungs of the Son of God (they did, I’m not kidding). Look upon every morsel of food -- even the plastic-wrapped monstrosity you pulled out of a vending machine -- is a gift of Providence to you. Watch every smile, every moment of laughter as a melody of grace directed personally at you from the rhetoric of Heaven.
This is real reality. Whatever is dismal, whatever is grim, whatever is hopeless, whatever is of bitter report is not the language of God, and therefore is not really true, not -- in the final analysis -- really real.
This new recognition of the Magi -- a group of humans that should include you -- is what happened new at the Nativity, when the mystical light was turned on in the world.
That Light of the World Who is Christ (John 1.9) is the Infinite Advent Who waits for your Adventure. He is larger, far far larger, more mysterious and “wild” than your routine comfort zone would ever like. He does not “behave” according to useful conventions. “Who said anything about safe?” huffed Mr Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, ‘‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” In Christ the Infinite Advent “all things hold together” (Colossians 1.7), and so it only stands to reason that He must “blow your mind.”
We have a nice Greek word (“apophasis”) for this experience of the “blowing of the mind,” an overwhelmedness, a complete inability to define God or confine Christ in our human knowledge. Wise men and women have felt this before, even at watching the dawn of a gold sun in the morning horizon, or staring into the nautilus-depths of a Peace Rose. Many have experienced this moment as one of "numinous tremens," a terrifying, deafening sense of utter smallness under the aspect of an oppressive weight of glory, like someone on the naive side of Io rounding the twilight and finally seeing, for the first time, the full and horrifying terror of the disc-plane of Jupiter.
Some minds have been overthrown by this terror-gate into the infinite profound.
But it is the most miraculous thing in the history of human wisdom that only in the Gospel that this same terrifying sense of apophasis becomes a moment of joy and peace, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
When you go on the Adventure to Advent, you must leave the Land of What You Want, the Persia of Your Private Wishes and Academic Eschatological Agendae. You must pay the price that all Magi have to pay and sacrifice the old fake dreams (i.e., idols) and receive, in their stead, the new song, the new communal freedom, the beauty and peace of the Mysterious Infinity swaddled as a poor weak infant in the manger.
Stop complaining about the times. Stop being so cranky: it does no one any good. Be humble enough to be sentimental: stop beating up on the bourgeoisie (at least until Lent). Stop being comfortably numb (i.e., bourgeoisie). Stop murmuring in your personal wilderness like the cognoscenti Israelites did under Moses.
Look for the world that God so loved (that He gave His Only-Begotten Son). Repent and turn from your conventional zones. Then and only then will you recognize the Prince of Peace.
Meet His infinite Advent with your personal Adventure.
Take the Risk of Love.
Break open your secular heart:
there, only then, you’ll find the gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Follow the Star to the Child Christ.
Veni Veni Emmanuel: Venite Adoremus.