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Empty of ourselves

First slide

Since moving to Connecticut, I’ve grown to appreciate the seasons even more than when I lived in Virginia. Sure, northern Virginia has four distinct seasons, but they somehow seem more distinct here, the transitions between them sharper, clearer. And just as the natural seasons are more defined here, so are the liturgical seasons more clearly defined this year — the year of the everything unprecedented. It’s not the same old Advent come again. It’s new.

What new understanding will you bring to me, familiar season of waiting with hope? How will I enter in and be transformed in these short weeks before the coming of the baby? Of course, this Advent is like the ones before it. We bring the weary world to the foot of the throne of God, and the throne is a humble manger. Yet there is a collective weariness this year that is novel, a collective sense of heaviness and disappointment and frustration; it yields with cautious optimism to a swelling hope for the grace and strength the season promises.

To truly live the liturgical year is to understand that we don’t just repeat the cycle over and over again as we trod through the calendar each year. Instead, we move in an upward spiral, joining our prayers to the prophets of old. We "climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths" (Is 2:1-5). We enter in so that Advent changes us each year, at once reminding us of lessons past and revealing to us new truths and deeper promises we could not yet understand before this new and present season.

It’s not the same Advent as it was last year.

We will light the same candles we have every year, singing the familiar song with its verses building one upon the other as Christmas draws nearer: hope, peace, joy, love. But this year is different. This year, we approach with a greater understanding of surrender, a greater yearning for restoration to the one who heals every wound and makes all things new. We know like never before how little is within our control, how our only hope is in the baby, our truest peace is when resting in his grace, our purest joy is in our salvation that transcends the trials and the tears of this present darkness, our best comprehension of love is the one we feel deep in our bones when we lift our eyes from the manger to gaze upon the cross.

This year, we come weary to the season that sparkles even in the secular realm. We come bruised and regretful, perhaps more doubtful than in seasons past. But this year, more than ever before, we come with the quiet recognition that only God can make sense of it all. We come with childlike trust — pure, simple, uncomplicated — because, really, life has been so complicated that we’ve ceased trying to make sense of it. We are left with no choice but to strip it all bare and leave it to God. Only he can dry every eye, bound up the broken and renew the face of the earth. Only Jesus.

This is Advent made simple, the Advent of surrender. We kneel at the manger, fully spent, empty of ourselves.

Only Jesus. 

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020