Advent comes round again

It’s Advent again and the prophecies written by Isaiah a mere 2,700 years ago have a new feel about them. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isa 2:4). There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit (Isa 11:1). The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, and the nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, (Isa 11:6-8). The Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth (Isa 25:8)[1].

It’s Advent again and the thrill remains undiminished –a little more troubled, to be sure, in view of what we are seeing in the world– when the echoes of these and other messianic prophecies reach us once again from way back across the centuries and millennia, from the heart of humanity and from all living beings with all their plagues, when every Sunday we light another candle placed beside green leaves, when once again we sing the traditional canticles, when every day, morning and night, I return to my favourite mantra: Maranatha (“Come, O Lord”). That means Advent (in Latin) or Parousia (in Greek): Coming. A noun and, above all, a verb conjugated in all its tenses: He came, come, comes, will come, beyond the time established by our precise clocks.

Yes, but who is the subject of this Advent? Who or what came, is coming, will come? This can be expressed in numerous ways.

Back in the year 29 C.E., which we refer to as the “Christian” era, a young prophet called Jesus, who hailed from Nazareth, expressed it in his own way across the rural villages near the Sea of Galilee, at that time the Roman province of Palestine: “Men and women stifled by debts and hunger, tormented by disease and plagues, subjected to the Empire and the Sanhedrin, rejoice! Blessed are you because God is coming, because your liberation is nigh”.

But no one came and everything carried on the same, the exception being a small group of men and women in whose hearts the pulsating hope had taken hold, and Jesus, who was arrested, summarily tried and cruelly crucified. Another one. And so on, until today. Small boats continue to arrive, thousands of migrants end up crowded together in deplorable conditions on the docks at Arguineguín (Canary Islands) and the judge rules that no crime has been committed against them and considers the case closed. No matter whether it is the judge, the law or is legal, it is not the justice we expected.

And what use is hope? Hope transforms mourning into Advent, which is what happened to a few of Jesus’ followers, and the only miracle they needed was the breath that heals memory and drives forward life, just as it transforms a falling leaf. “Jesus the martyr did not remain in the tomb,” said Mary Magdalene first, and then Peter, “his descent into the inferno of history was his ascension to the Source of Life, as it is written regarding all the martyrs in our inspired scriptures”. And that’s what I believe, too.

Consistent with their image of God, the world and history, they also believed that Jesus, the exalted martyr of recent times, was the Messiah or universal Christ and would return very soon –within a matter of months or years– to fulfil everything that had been foretold, to finally put an end to the anguish and oppression of this world and set in motion the world according to the Beatitudes that still resonated in their ears. And they called upon Jesus to come down from heaven and put an end to sadness on earth once and for all: Maranatha (“Come, O Lord”). It was their way of encouraging active hope; that is what mattered then and what matters to us now.

Jesus did not come nor will he come down from heaven as they had imagined, nor will the world come to an end, not even when the Earth is finally absorbed by the Sun in 5,500 million years’ time. Was Jesus deluding himself when he foretold the end of poverty and oppression of the poor people of Galilee in Palestine? No, he wasn’t. Even when all the images he had of God and all the ideas built up about the future were wrong, and that was most likely the case, Jesus was not deluding himself. He lived in Advent, in inspired and active hope, and he or she who hopes is not deluded, just as whoever breathes is not deluded.

Opposite me I can see the two icons that for the last 30 years have accompanied me every day at my desk and in my meditation corner: one depicting Jesus crucified from the San Damian chapel before which the young Francis of Assisi (13th century) found light on his dark quest, and the other of Christ the Redeemer by Rublev (15th century), full of sweetness and harmony. I cast my eyes back to Jesus, because for Christians and for me, too, saying Jesus is just one way –there are many others both religious and secular ones– of expressing, calling upon, embracing the presence and yearning that pulsate in the Hearts of all beings. The Whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. And as I breathe with the Universe, I repeat: Maranatha.

From his silent lips, from the depths of my discouragement and contradictions, words of promise and calling reach me: “Oh, men and women of all ages, be you Christian or otherwise, believers or atheists, Advent is neither past nor future, it embodies the good Presence in which we are all One. I lived my Advent, may you live yours which, like mine, is the Advent of all humanity, of all living beings, of the entire Universe”.

Aizarna (Basque Country). 6 December, 2020

Translated by Sarah-Jane Turtle 

  1. ESVUK Bible