Today is the first day of Advent. With “Advent” meaning, “He is coming.” The Lord comes to us.
We like to restrict Advent to preparing us for the Lord’s coming to us on Christmas, but the Church does not oblige us there. No, she gives us a wide range of readings that deal with the Lord coming to us 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. In our Mass today he will come to us. On the last day of life he will come to each of us individually.
But, let me speak of a quite different way of his coming to us.
Thirty years ago there was a Rabbi Lebowitz who taught a popular course in primitive religions at J.U. With his setting off on a Sabbatical, someone came up with my name for replacing him teaching the course. They sent me the books they used for the course, and I dug into them, but my name didn’t draw students enough for them to hold the course.
In the books they sent me there was one fact that surprised me: almost every primitive people had something like the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple. In each place they did something that drove their god away. In Africa, the Lozi people of Zambia said their god ran away on seeing our wickedness. The Pangwa of Tanzania said their god made us out of ant excrement, and fled from the smell. The Yoruba people of Nigeria said their god was drunk on palm wine when he made us. (They put offerings of palm wine on their god’s altar, and our Catholics sometime stole it.)
Peoples on six continents share the idea of their god fleeing from them after he created them, but what I found more surprising was that many primitive people, thinking of how their god showered them with blessings at creation time, got the idea that if they could trick their god into thinking creation-time had returned they could get their god to return. For that they would portray their creation myth in colorful dances. (Pictures of those weirdly costumed dances used to grace the pages of “National Geographic.”)
The most common holiday throughout the world is New Years. In country after country that has been the day they celebrated creation to entice their god to return. (They celebrated the chaos that preceded creation on New Year’s Eve.)
There is one Bible story that separated the Israelites from those people who believed their god had altogether deserted them. That story is Jacob’s dream when he saw an endless string of angels going up and down a ladder to God, bringing our prayers up to God.
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.”