These are the last words in our well-known Advent song “O Come Divine Messiah!” It’s the last weekend – this Fourth Sunday of Advent – of our Advent Season of “waiting”. There is no avoiding, I suppose, a sense of “let’s get Advent out of the way to prepare for the 25th”, but the wisdom of the Church in choosing its scriptures for this Sunday reminds us to continue to be ready as was Mary before the Angel Gabriel appeared to her.
Aside from the four Sundays when the scriptures tell us to be ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord, this season of joyful preparedness can be a very difficult time for so many people: for those who are poor or marginalized; for those who have to face the holiday season alone with memories of better times and the loss of a loved one who is no longer with them; those who are experiencing the breakup of a relationship; those who are coping with an illness or poor health; those who are fearful, worried or faced with much anxiety. The holiday season can be the worst of times at a time that is supposed to be joyous, festive, celebratory and fun.
Now, it’s not that I want to end this Advent season bulletin with a “downer” of an article, but I really feel, as I think we all do, for those who are sad, lonely, perplexed, vexed with the constant onslaught of too many things to do, but especially for those who are suffering from what can seem to be an immovable sense of sorrow, loss and relentless sadness at this time when everyone else can seem to have it all.
For me, if I should ever be sad, it is not mindless games that can shake me from my mood, but rather the work of the artist who can paint the scenes I see and feel inwardly, the poet who can speak of what I sense, the composer and the musician who can lead me to think that they know what it is to feel as I feel. I turn to that great poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote Day Is Done.
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet.
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ah, the music of words from the poets experience, perception, pen and mind. While sadness is real just as physical pain is real, they are not in and of themselves all powerful nor will they be our end. We need to recognize them for what they are, temporary feelings and sensations that will pass in time. And even if pain and suffering should be our last lot in this life it is surrounded with that hope that there is going to be a Resurrection that will forever change sadness into joy, darkness into light, loss into relationship again. The Christmas we await is the Christ we await not only in our days but in our very bones. What could possibly address the needs, pain and hurt of this world? Nothing, save a baby who is God Himself! We would have ever been confounded with evil if it were not for God to send us a Saviour, some One outside of ourselves who could take our pain, sadness, emptiness and a world of suffering upon Himself – as He did in His Passion, Cross and Death on it. And just when it would have seemed that the worst that humanity could pile on Him was done and all was seemingly lost, it wasn’t. In three days He rose from death to Life and it changed and has changed everything.
In just three days we will celebrate the birth of a child who was born in another place and time. Yet it will be far more than a ‘happy birthday’; it will be the celebration of the coming of the One who saved us and saves us still. Even and especially in the midst of any pain, suffering, grief and death… “then hope shall sing its triumph, and sadness flee away… and one day forever!
That’s why we sing, ‘O Come, Divine Messiah!’ (Fr. Charles)