A reflection on Advent 4C by the Rev. Dr. Katherine Godby
Advent this year has been a special time for me. I’ve had a year of change—moving to a new job at a new church, and a year of dealing with health problems—provoking a rethinking of my identity as an embodied being with significant human limits. So I found myself wondering these weeks of Advent: what exactly is Advent’s invitation?
In this season of honest reflection, I love the idea that Advent offers us yet another opportunity to give birth to the Christ within us. We’ve been created in the image of God, or Christ, but as we grow up, that divine image gets tarnished, diminished, or deadened by various fears. Giving birth to the Christ within us means allowing that divine image to once again flourish, and as I know from experience, it is a never-ending process.
Allowing the divine image within us to really flourish in our lives is, I think, intricately tied to Advent as the anticipation of the Incarnation, the coming of God into this world in human form. Can we see that God continues coming into the world, even now, through each of us? We are called to carry forward the Incarnation, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, to allow the image of Christ to shape how we live, how we care and relate, and how we love.
How ironic that the season of the year in which we’re called to contemplative reflection, asking ourselves important questions, is the same season that makes that calling difficult. Advent asks us to make contact with our need for salvation. But the culture of Santa Claus tells us that buying this and that will save us. Advent wants to know: What is that emptiness I keep trying to feed—with food, or fantasy, or excitement, or busyness? The culture of Santa Claus has the answer: stay busy with a million distractions and you won’t even know that you’re restless and empty!
But thanks be to God, that denial doesn’t have to last forever. The Holy Spirit keeps sending us two vital things: signals that we’re not being honest with ourselves and impulses toward the courage we need to face that dishonesty.
We have no need to fear Advent’s invitation. The prophet Isaiah writes: “A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God”—we prepare for God by being honest about the desert of our own hearts . . . “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, her penalty is paid”—a message of reassurance and forgiveness.
Whatever we find when we honestly look inside our hearts is simply part of our life’s experience, not the totality of who we are. And in itself this act of honest reflection begins the birth of forgiveness, regained strength, healing grief—it begins over and over again this miraculous process of transformation toward which God calls us. Advent reminds us that our Savior is coming, and is already here, and the joy that is our birthright lies just beneath the surface of whatever concerns us.
So that’s a bit of what I’ve concluded about Advent’s invitation to me this year – what about you?