Today is the first day of Advent, a word which means “He is coming,” and it refers to the Lord coming to us. We like to restrict Advent to preparing us for the Lord’s coming to us on Christmas in 2011, but the Church does not oblige us there. No, she uses a wide range of readings at Mass during Advent to prepare us for his coming in many different ways.
He came into the world back in the year One. He will come in power and glory at the end of the world. Today’s Mass warns that he will come for each of us individually on the last day of life for each of us. That is ominous. I have an alternate way of thinking about Our Lord coming to us.
Twenty-five years ago there was a Rabbi who taught a popular course in primitive religions at J.U. With is setting off on a Sabbatical someone pulled my name out of a hat to replace him teaching the course, and the Religion Department there supplied me with some books for the course. My name wasn’t enough to draw students for the course, and it was cancelled. However, I learned some surprising facts from those text books, and I incorporated them into a Sixth Grade World Religions course I taught for years at St. Paul’s.
One fact that surprised me was that almost every primitive people had something like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple: a story that told how God deserted mankind after the fall. In Africa the Lozi people of Zambia thought that God ran away forever on seeing our wickedness. The Pangwa of Tanzania said God made us out of ant excrement, fleeing from the smell of us. The Yoruba people say God was drunk on palm wine when he made us, and regretted making us.
Peoples on six continents came up with the same idea. They theorized that since God was near us at creation time they could bring about his return by recreating their creation myths. That is what they celebrate at New Years, which is the one universal religious holiday.
There is one Bible story that separates us from those people who believe they can trick God into visiting us once a year. That story is Jacob’s dream when he saw an endless string of angels going up and down a ladder to God. That story told us that God keeps in touch with us.
Our New Testament improves on that Old Testament story. St. Paul assures us that “God is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move and have out being.”
For us Advent, the time when we celebrate the Lord’s coming to us, is a time when we rejoice that the Lord stands at the door of our hearts. He comes in any time we open to him.