The whole progression of Advent is one that has always captured my imagination. I see Advent as a kind of dawning of a new day. Just as the day doesn’t come all at once, so Advent progresses and we see the coming of Jesus ever more gradually as we participate in each day’s Liturgy of the Word. At the same time though, night doesn’t last forever, and the day arrives more quickly than we might be ready for. I think that’s kind of where we are at this sort of late-middle point of Advent.
Today we see some glimmers of light. The prophet Balaam speaks of a star advancing from Jacob and a spear from Israel. This wasn’t terribly good news for Balaam’s people, but it sure is for us. The hope of all the earth was in the somewhat distant future for the people of Israel, and even though in the Gospel that hope was standing right in front of them, the Truth of it all had not yet dawned on the chief priests and elders.
Today we celebrate Saint John of the Cross, who was ordained a Carmelite priest at age 25, in 1567. With Saint Teresa of Avila, he undertook to reform the Carmelite order. He pursued holiness by embracing the cross of Christ, which is why he is named, “of the Cross.” He had the opportunity to embrace that cross, because his efforts to reform the order met with quite a bit of opposition, leading eventually to being imprisoned. During his months in prison, he experienced what he called a “dark night of the soul” or a feeling of abandonment in his spiritual life. The agony of this situation led ultimately to light, or as he called it, an ascent to Mount Carmel.
Balaam and Saint John of the Cross both prophesied the coming of the light. Balaam’s people weren’t ready, Saint John’s critics weren’t ready, and in our Gospel, the chief priests and the people weren’t ready. But the light is near, for us in this more than halfway point of Advent, and for our world in what can be a dark time. The questions is, are we ready? Have we been progressing faithfully this Advent? Has the light been made ever brighter in our hearts? Are we progressing toward the dawning of the day, or will it happen all at once and find us unprepared? This is the time to light the lamp if we’ve been keeping it dim. This is the time to wake from our sleep. Our salvation is near at hand.