Manifest Hiddenness

Brad Bursa

nativity.jpg!Large.jpg

The sign of the new covenant is hiddenness. 

We are reminded of this in a striking way as we behold the manger scene. The God who created the cosmos, and recreated through the powerful flood, the God who created a nation and then saved Isreal with pillar of cloud and fire, the God who made the earth shake at Sinai and who established a dynasty in David, this God took flesh completely unawares in an untown town, in the womb of an unknown girl, in a humble house, with nobody else around. Then, upon the time for His birth, this God, in the hidden sign, would be born in a cave outside of Bethlehem (which means 'house of bread') because there was no room in the village. He would be laid in a manger (from which we get the word 'to eat'), a feeding trough for animals. His first visitors where the humble shepherds from the nearby fields - the shepherds who were humble enough to receive the sign. 

The sign of the new covenant is hiddenness. 

The sign remains the same today. On this great Solemnity, the Eucharist stands in striking relief, this great and hidden sign, this bread of life on which we feed, we who are invited to humble ourselves to receive this great gift from the humble God. Today, may the Eucharist draw us deeper and deeper into this humble and hidden mystery of the God born man, that men might participate in the Divine. 

The sign of the new covenant is manifest in hiddenness. May we be granted the grace to believe in the sign and to receive Him in humility.

It's Always Advent

Brad Bursa

the-wreckage-1914.jpg

I once read a rather harrowing statement:

“What really torments us today, what bothers us...is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us.” - J. Ratzinger

I’d say that for the most part, we don’t pay much heed to thoughts or questions like this one, but in the season of Advent, something of it might wiggle its way into our consciousness.

What are we anticipating at Christmas? What are we celebrating, actually?

At the forefront of most of our minds is the historical coming of Christ around about 4AD, born of a virgin in a cave near Bethlehem, and all of the other nostalgic memories that come with this. Ratzinger’s observation hangs as a dark cloud over this historical fact of His coming. The “Savior of the World” has come, but what, concretely and in terms of salvation, has come in His wake?

Advent also causes us to consider Christ’s second coming - a time to prepare for judgment. This fact might come equipped with its own sense of foreboding. In fact, our lack of hope in God tends to cause us to take matters in our own hands, to pursue creating our own heaven on earth that we have made with our own hands and fashioned according to our own ideals. These attempts to control the future are accompanied by equal amounts of fear (of the whole thing falling apart) and disappointment (because the ideal is never actually attainable). Much of the wreckage we find in history, those “same old horrors,” is the result of many such attempts.

Perhaps here, considering the past and the future comings of Christ, we are forced to confront our disappointment, on the one hand, and our fear, on the other. So, what are we left with?

The fact that, because God completely respects our freedom, it is always Advent.

“We shall begin to realize that the borderline between ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’ does not run through historical time, in an outward sense, and cannot be drawn on any map [i.e. these people are “saved” and those in that country are not]; it runs through our own hearts. Insofar as we are living on a basis of selfishness, of egoism, then even today we are ‘before Christ.’ But in this time of Advent, let us ask the Lord to grant that we may live less and less ‘before Christ,’ and certainly not ‘after Christ,’ but truly with Christ and in Christ.” -J. Ratzinger

In short, we are left with a profound realization that we, right now and very personally, need Christ to come and to be present to us with the same impact that his presence had on the simple shepherds and the Magi, and with the look of the merciful Father who wants us with Him more than we often want it ourselves. We are left with an opportunity to utter a prayer that God would come to me now and that he would dwell in me and break through my own boundary lines.

What's the Story Behind the Advent Hymn of the Day?

Brad Bursa

Like many people, my favorite Christmas cartoon is probably A Charlie Brown Christmas. Not only do I appreciate the dry humor and Charlie's generally pessimistic attitude, I think we all have to appreciate Schultz's attempt to get underneath the consumerism and materialism that has come to mark the season in many ways. Charlie's famous question, 'Is there anyone who know what Christmas is all about?' followed by Linus' monologue is basically an iconic American moment each Christmas season. 

Just as Charlie's question and Linus' response cut through the commercialism, I think similar consideration could be given to the music we ingest this time of year. The Christmas jingles pick up even before Thanksgiving in some cases and flood our ears for over a month. All of this speeds the season into a frenzy driven by marketers and sentiment. But for what, ultimately? Why is it that nearly every year I am attentive during the first Sunday of Advent and then wake up and Christmas is over? It's like a blur, and our project of posting an ADVENT hymn each day is just one attempt to slow us down and really consider just how badly we need the Lord to break into our lives afresh. 

As we wait to celebrate His manifestation on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, may these words become our anthem: 'Come, Lord Jesus...show us your face once again, and make us new.'

To You, I Lift Up My Soul, O My God

Brad Bursa

 Waterloo Bridge, Dawn, 1901 by Claude Monet

Waterloo Bridge, Dawn, 1901 by Claude Monet

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,” the prophet Isaiah exclaims in the first reading on this First Sunday of Advent. Lord, that you would rip yourself away from your heaven, that you would tear yourself from the lumenocity of the eternal, and descend into the muck of our mortality…

Today's Psalm is just as bold in its entreaty: “Rouse your power, and come to save us” (Ps. 80:3). Here, one senses the same urgency the apostles must have had on the stormy sea, as Jesus lay there, asleep in their midst, and their barque battered by wind and waves seemed doomed in the dark night. How often do we share in this sentiment: Wake up, Lord!

Yet the prophet Isaiah reminds us of something that is very close to our experience. He says, “We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you.” As much as we want the Lord to rouse His power and come, we, in our pride-laden sin that withers us and carries us along, that weighs down our faces, are often at least halfway grateful that He doesn't rend the heavens and come down. In his 1923 study on the philosophy of religion, Rudolf Otto points out that the mysterium tremendum (tremendous mystery) of the divine presence has always both attracted man and woman, and made them tremble in fear. But sometimes I wonder if the hesitation or even repulsion toward God we experience today is not something entirely other than the understandable humility Otto was getting at. In today's workaday world of the self-made man, in this culture that seems to even reject the idea of God (at least in its day-in and day-out operations), we often don't really want God to come, to influence our plans and projects, to cause us to relinquish control. Isaiah highlights this tension: we want God and His power, and at the same time, we don't. We like our own power and its mirage. Taking one more step, we can simply say that we are afraid to be loved by God. Like Adam and Eve, we are afraid of what He might see when He encounters us in our present state.

This season of Advent, with its customary sense of urgency, challenges us to let go - now! - of that prideful repulsion that amounts, in the end, to a sort of apathy. May we rouse  ourselves to call upon him once again, our voices united with the Church, who with her first words in the new liturgical year, as she cries out: “To you, I lift up my soul, O my God” (Ps. 25:1). And may we not waste any time in doing so.

“The days of Advent are like a quiet knocking at the door of our smothered souls, inviting us to undertake the risk of stepping forward toward God’s mysterious presence, which alone can make us free.” -Ratzinger