Advent thoughts.

At the “Advent Calendar” in Gnigl I shared some thoughts about Advent with the visitors. Now I also want to share these with the visitors of my website.

On the occasion of the meeting in Gnigl in the premises of raumlust and Baukultur2, my paintings from the Kollegienkirche were also shown in a smaller setting. These were created for the exhibition “Giving Color to the Saints”, where they were on display in October and November 2022.

These paintings relate to the following saints.

  • Martin of Tours (around 316 – 397)
  • St. Leonardo of Limoges (c. 500 – 559)
  • Ivo of Kermatin (around 1247 – 1303)
  • Bernard of Clairvaux (around 1090 – 1153)
  • Francis of Assisi (1181/2 – 1226)
  • Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582)

For each of the saints I also wrote introductory texts, which were displayed in the Kollegienkirche. Therefore, the theme of the Advent meeting was which thoughts on Advent these saints can inspire us to.

The threefold Advent (Bernard of Clairvaux)

Advent comes from “adventus” arrival. It is a waiting for the coming of Jesus. A waiting and preparing for Christmas.

The church teacher Cyril in the 4th century still spoke of the double arrival of Jesus – he meant Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and his return on the Last Day.

Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century spoke of the threefold coming of Jesus. In addition to the birth (past) and the Second Coming (future), he emphasized the coming of Jesus in the now, in the present, into our hearts.

Bernard sees here a direct relationship between the faith and life of a Christian and communion with God.

“This middle coming is, as it were, the path by which one passes from the first to the last: In the first (arrival) Christ was our salvation, in the last he will appear as our life, but in this he is our rest and consolation.”
Bernard of Clairvaux

He bases his doctrine of the Middle Advent of Christ on Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospel of John, in which Jesus promises,

“If anyone loves me, he will hold fast to my words; my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.”

Bernard sees here a direct relationship between the faith and life of a Christian and communion with God.

He preached the birth of God in the heart of man and encourages us to encounter God in our inner being, the direct encounter with Christ who dwells in our heart.

Angelus Silesius (a 17th century lyricist) put it this way:

“If Christ is born a thousand times in Bethlehem and not in you, you still remain eternally lost.”

How is Jesus born in us? Different Christian traditions have found different expressions for this. Personally, I call it inviting Jesus into my heart and giving Him the leadership of my life. This can be done in a very simple informal prayer. I myself did this at the age of 18, at a time when I was actually an atheist. And I have never regretted it since.

Pope Benedict XVI in the second volume of his Jesus book, mentions among the possibilities of the “adventus medius” also epochal ways of his coming. He cites Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila as examples of this. We will look at them in the following.

Detachment in Advent (Francis of Assisi)

What comes to mind when you hear Advent? Buying presents, attending countless Christmas parties, and lots of pre-Christmas stress? Advent wasn’t actually invented for that. Advent comes from “adventus” arrival in Latin. It is about preparing for the arrival of Jesus.

Therefore, Advent is theoretically the exact opposite of how we experience it today. Even the contemplative visit of Christmas markets with many lights is not necessarily the solution. Advent is an invitation to get off the hamster wheel of societal expectations. An invitation to come to peace.

Why do we find this so difficult? We are made for connectedness with other people. From this grows our urge to meet the expectations of others. Because if we disappoint them, we could lose the relationship.

The other factor that makes the pre-Christmas season so unadventurous for many people is what I call consumerism. In our time it is very difficult to resist the lie of advertising. It wants to make us believe that we are worth more if we have more. In the end, the Advent shopping marathon is either a social compulsion or a form of addiction. This “addiction” also triggers happiness hormones like other addictive substances, even if we “only” buy gifts for others. Could it be that for many people it is an attempt to fill their inner emptiness?

Jesus says in John’s Gospel:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

This verse appealed to me very much from the beginning and attracted me magnetically. Yes, I wanted that fullness. When, as an 18-year-old atheist, I invited Jesus into my heart and handed over the leadership of my life to Him, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and what to expect. I only understood that being a member of a church alone was not enough to spend eternity with God. So I got involved in this experiment of inviting Jesus into my life. And I have never regretted it. I can warmly recommend it to everyone. Jesus offers us a full life. A fullness that the consumer rush cannot come close to offering.

Francis of Assisi experienced something similar in the 12th century, only he put it into practice in a more extreme form. He experienced the fullness promised by Jesus in the detachment from all possessions. After several years of seeking fulfillment in excessive parties, he realized that he would not find it there. He finally found fullness and freedom in detachment from possessions. This was also one of the most important rules of the brotherhood until his death. By doing so, they wanted to be a sermon without words for the wealthy clergy. And so it is not surprising that after Francis’ death, the official church immediately set about donating buildings to the brotherhood.

Francis of Assisi found his freedom and fulfillment in extreme lack of possessions and poverty. We do not have to imitate it in this extreme form. It should make us think. In our time, there are other social pressures and addictions that take away our freedom and prevent us from experiencing the fullness that Jesus offers us.

Advent invites us to break out of the hamster wheel. But this is only possible if my value as a human being does not depend on the approval of other people. Only when I have deeply internalized that my worth is defined by God’s love for me, and not by what I possess, can I become free from societal pressures and expectations.

Living in relationship (Teresa of Ávila)

One aspect that makes getting out of the hamster wheel so difficult is our need for relationship. Humans are herd animals and the greatest human fear is to be excluded and rejected from the group. To lose connection with others. Of becoming an outsider. That’s why we do so many things that can stress us out and make us feel unfree. Especially during Advent.

Yes, God created us for relationship. That is good. We need connection and acceptance. Rejection we know by now is such an extreme pain in our brain like a physical injury. That’s why we try to numb the very pain of broken relationships and rejection with addictive drugs.

The central element of Teresa’s spiritual practice is living in relationship with God, and as she herself calls it, “inner prayer.” Even before she entered the convent, Teresa practiced this inner prayer, which ultimately enabled her to experience, “God is in me / with me!” This realization changes everything. It opens the door for Teresa to live in relationship with God.

It takes the place of a purely formulaic prayer. She herself compares it to a conversation:

“as with a friend with whom we often and gladly come to talk because we are sure that he loves us.”

To love God without despising the earth is at the core of her spirituality. But this could only succeed because she had previously become free from all false dependence. The prayer found in her breviary after Teresa’s death is to be understood in this sense:

“Let nothing frighten you, nothing scare you, everything passes away, God remains the same, patience achieves everything. He who possesses God can lack nothing. God alone is enough.”
John of the Cross (?)e

What is meant is: everything earthly, whether persons or things, is, measured against the longing that lives in us, too little and too small. The (infinite) longing that lives in us can be filled by the infinite God alone.

Community and relationships are important. That’s why eating together is an important part of great celebrations, like Christmas. But that alone is not the core of Christmas. It is not the rush of consumption to fulfill social expectations and constraints that is important. It is to pause. Renewing my personal relationship with Jesus or beginning it for the first time. Remembering Jesus’ promise:

“And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

That means you are never completely alone and abandoned. Jesus is with you, especially in the pain of broken relationships or loneliness. This helps when Christmas is no longer the magical experience of our childhood. When we are tempted to numb the pain with addictive substances. Especially when we combine it with a deep gratitude and wonder that the God of the universe became a human being. The God who became human offers us a deep relationship and communion. This is what we celebrate at Christmas and this is what we want to reflect on during Advent and prepare for with these Advent thoughts.