Just after matins one day in the early history of the church, a young postulant for holy orders sought out his spiritual mentor. “When, Father, will God be ready to fill me?” Father John took a length of strong rope and silently beckoned for the young monk to accompany him. They made their way to the well of an abandoned waystation in the desert surrounding the monastery. Arriving at the parched and desolate location, the abbot tied the boy’s feet with the rope holding the bucket and lowered him into the well until he hung with his fingers mere inches above the water. The holy man returned to the monastery, leaving him suspended there as the desert sun traced its unrelenting arc across the sky.
Father John did not return to the well until after evensong. The young monk, now desperate in his thirst, made harsh, rasping sounds in his throat as his fingers stretched achingly toward the refreshment of water just beyond their reach. His mentor pulled him slowly from the well and then asked, “Now, my son, do you understand? You must thirst for God as you now thirst for water. He is always ready to fill you; it is you who must desire to be filled.”
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary and where there is no water (Psalm 63:1 NIV).
Advent is the time in the church year when we focus our lives most intensely on our thirst—our hunger, our desire—for God. We wait in quiet expectation for the annual celebration of the coming of the infant Jesus. We ask the Lord to fill us in the present moment. We await his coming in glory. Like the four living creatures surrounding the throne of God, we say unceasingly, day and night,
Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God, the Almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.
(Rev. 4:8 NIV)
Or do we?
The day after Thanksgiving, we rush to retail stores for Black Friday or Green Friday or whatever they’re now calling that officially begins the Christmas shopping season. Uh . . . er . . . sorry for being so politically incorrect. The holiday shopping season. We camp out in the Walmart parking lot to make sure we’re there at 5:00 a.m. when the 42” plasma TV is only $997. The Raleigh Christmas parade was November 19, but there’s still time to see the ones in Garner and Clayton and Fuquay-Varina. Must see the Raleigh Boy Choir and the Duke “Messiah” and the “Nutcracker.” Have to get the kids’ pictures made with Santa so they can go on the Christmas cards. Or it might be cute to do the pets on Santa’s lap at the SPCA. Caroling. Angel trees. Decorating committee. Support group for holiday depression. The joy of gifting. When is the last day I can ship packages to Arizona? How many more shopping days until . . .
Where in this whirlwind in the desire for God? When will God ne ready to fill me? Is there even room for God with all those other things on the agenda?
“Our hunger for God is too small,” writes Christian author John Piper. “This is true not only because our capacities for desire are atrophied—like a muscle that lifts only feathers—but also because our capacity to see the Desirable is untrained on the telescope of God’s Word.”
Advent is the time in the church year when we in the liturgical churches have the unique opportunity to listen to our grumbling pangs of hunger for God. However, our full bellies and calendars often prevent us from acknowledging or even realizing that we are hungry. We allow ourselves to be satiated with things that sparkle or feel cuddly or hold 10,000 songs. And when those things no longer satisfy, we hold out our hands for more or turn on Dr. Phil to find out why our lives are so empty.
My prayer for this Advent is that we might recognize that we hunger for Jesus, the bread of life, and that we thirst for the living water he has promised. Further, as we open ourselves to the experience of those yearnings, may we know that their fulfillment comes only as we turn to him in prayer, study, and fasting. Let us watch and wait and worship together as we read the lessons and sing the hymns of Advent. Let us take the time to be quiet and still and open, prepared for renewed knowledge of the infant Jesus, the crucified Christ, the coming King. And let us sing unceasingly:
Holy, holy, holy
Is God our Master, Sovereign-Strong,
The Was, The Is, The Coming.
(Rev. 4:8 The Message)