Each year I try to post one meaningful quote from my own reading/meditations regarding Christmas. This year I’d like to share with you this excerpt from the late Fr. Thomas Merton, in his essay entitled, “Advent: Hope or Delusion?” It has come right on time for me at the end of a good, but very challenging year, both in terms of my personal ongoings and the world moreover.
Enjoy, and in the most sincere way, Merry Christmas!!!
“The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.
It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or otherwise, as a return to our own innocence and our own infancy. Advent should remind us that the ‘King Who is to Come’ is more than a charming infant smiling (or if you prefer a dolorous spirituality, weeping) in the straw. There is certainly nothing wrong with the traditional family jours of Christmas, nor need we be ashamed to find ourselves still able to anticipate them without too much ambivalence. After all, that in itself is no mean feat.
But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a ‘great prophet,’ a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of [humankind], of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent.
The Advent Gospels, like most of the other liturgical texts of the season, are sober to the point of austerity. Take for example the question of St. John the Baptist in Herod’s prison, where he was about to undergo a tragic death that was at once cruel and senseless:
‘Are you He who is to come, or look we for another?’
Strange and even scandalous words, which some have never been able to accept at their face value! How can John have meant such a question, when he head seen the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the Jordan? Yet the directness with which the question was asked was the guarantee of its desperate seriousness: for at the close of his life, John was concerned not only, as we might say, for the ‘success of his mission,’ but more profoundly still, the truth of his own life, the truth of Israel, indeed, the truth of [God].
In our time, what is lacking is not so much the courage to ask this question as the courage to expect an answer. There are enough [people], some of them great, who think that the only authentic posture is the frank acceptance of hopelessness in the face of life. Perhaps one reason why Sartre takes this position is that he feels Christians are always giving themselves a cozy answer to a desperate question they do not have the courage to ask. In which case our glad acceptance of the answer may be something less than edifying.
St. Gregory the Great said that all Christians should continue the prophetic mission of John to point out the presence of Christ in the world. This may mean many different things. John was able to point out Christ at the Jordan, in a moment of fulfillment, which gave meaning to his whole life. But John also had to witness to Christ in prison, in the face of death, in failure, when even the meaning of his other glorious moment seemed to have been cancelled out.
So too we may at times be able to show the world Christ in moments when all can clearly discern in history, some confirmation of the Christian message. But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that [God’s] plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to [God’s] will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.
What is uncertain is not the ‘coming’ of Christ but our own reception of Him, our own response to him, our own readiness and capacity to ‘go forth and meet Him.’ We must be willing to see Christ and acclaim Christ, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life’s work and all its meaning seem to collapse. Indeed, more formidable still, the Church herself may perhaps be called upon some day to point out the King of Ages amid the collapse of all that has been laboriously built up by the devotion of centuries and cultures that sincerely intended to be ‘Christian.'”