My reflection today will begin and end with a prayer, because it conveys far beyond what words alone can do. The following prayer comes from a book, All Desires Known written by Janet Morley. She said that the Christian life is about the integration of desire: our personal desires, our political vision, and our longing for God. So far from being separate or in competition with one another, she believes that our deepest desires ultimately spring from the same source; and worship is the place where this can be acknowledged.
Let us pray. Vulnerable God, you challenge the powers that rule this world through the needy, the compassionate, and those who are filled with longing. Make us hunger and thirst to see right prevail, and single-minded in seeking peace; that we may see your face and be satisfied in you, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Desire is one of the things that make us humans. We desire, therefore we are. It is what drives us to fulfill something beyond our daily needs, such as eating, drinking and sleeping. I’m talking about our deepest longings that we can’t buy no matter how rich we are, or we can’t achieve no matter how hard we work. Let’s say, you have accomplished a successful life to the point that there seems to be nothing to be desired. But at the end of the day, the things you placed a high value on do not matter anymore, and you begin to wonder if that is all there is. You find yourself still hungry or thirsty for something you don’t even have a name for it. Desire never ends, and it always points to something we must pay attention. We will never be able to bring it to completion, and that’s the beauty of desire; it makes us humble, and keeps us searching for what we are missing. Consequently, what we desire will bring us to a place we couldn’t imagine before. The good news is that we can only desire something we’ve already tasted or experienced. We desire what’s already in us however deep it is hidden from us.
Let me give you an example. Every once in a while I have a homesickness. I miss the place I grew up, the people who loved or nurtured me, and the food and certain activities that brought me joy. I miss those because I’ve already experienced them before. Visiting my home country doesn’t necessarily dissolve my symptom although that can bring me a sense of satisfaction up to a point. I have learned that the homesickness I experience is so much deeper and a more spiritual one. What’s interesting is that feeling homesick has led me to uncover my deeper yearning for God and the world around me. My spiritual journey has been about learning to embrace my desire, and to let it speak in all that I am and do.
It is a desire that makes Advent possible. Advent is all about longings. Readings for Advent expressed this desire over and over again. The people of Israel had a dream of a peaceable kingdom for a long time. The whole earth longed for God. John the Baptist gave voice to Israel’s desire for the Messiah. Mary and Joseph longed for the birth of their son. The shepherd went with haste with the desire to find the child as the angels told them. The Magi embarked on a journey with the desire to search for the unknown. And the baby lying in the manger manifests how our desires are united with God’s desire for the whole creation. We can say that our desire is an evidence of how God desires for us.
Through our deepest longings we can reach out to God and one another far beyond we can do in person. Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi while in prison. He was more likely to be chained to various guards day and night. After going through many dangers and hardship, he was now waiting for a trial. He even said that he didn’t know which he would prefer – dying or living. So far from being free in a physical sense, his soul, however, was completely free reaching out to the people he missed most. “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” (v. 3, 4) “You hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me.” (v. 7) “How I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.” (v. 8)
This is one of the most beautiful love letters I’ve ever read. Indeed love prevails throughout the letter that he is able to maintain the joyful and hopeful tone despite the circumstance he is in. Whether he will be able to see the people again is not the point. The point is what he can do when the thing he misses most is nowhere near possible. Paul embraces his deepest longings – not only to be able to visit them, but also to be united with Christ – and let them speak for themselves.
What do you desire? What lies at the bottom of your heart? Let us pay attention to our desires, because they are our guides in our Advent journey, leading us to uncover our deeper yearnings for God and the world around us. The good news is that we can only desire what we’ve already experienced however vague it may be to our memories. Likewise, we can only wait for what’s already begun however long it might take to complete, like a seed that has started to grow without our knowledge. Let that sink in for a moment. We can only wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. That’s the mystery of Advent. What we seek is already seeking us. What we desire is already desiring for us. What better way for God to reach out to us.
Let us pray. God our desire, whose coming we look for, but whose arrival is unexpected: in the darkness make us urgent to greet you, and open yourself to our longing that we may be known by you through Jesus Christ, Amen.