The Thirty-Sixth Day of Christmas Advent. The Voice Calls Out to Us.
EVEN NOW THE VOICE CALLS OUT TO US, asking that we turn, bidding us again to prepare the way of the Lord. And most of us, most of the time, will break our hearts trying to respond as we should. Repentance—that turn of heart and mind—is not so easy to accomplish, nor do our preparations of “the way” ever feel quite complete. Still and always, the voice calls to us from the wilderness and calls us again to attempt these provisional measures.
My own journey along the way has been enabled over the years by many of the men and women we call the desert fathers and the desert mothers—the abbas and the ammas. They comprise an essential “organ” of Christ’s Body; I daresay they are its very heart. They were lifelong pilgrims, whose lives were given wholly to prayer and to assisting one another in the path to, as more than one of them has put it, “becoming prayer.”
My reading of their Lives and Sayings has helped me see how repentance itself is far sweeter and far more possible than my prior understanding would have allowed.
Turning away from sin is, without question, one way to apprehend the call to repentance; but I glimpse, even so, in the desert fathers and in writers such as St. Isaac of Syria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil the Great, and St. John Chrysostom a healthier characterization of this necessary turn—specifically, that we turn not so much away as toward. Turning away may diminish our temptation and may diminish our discomfort; it may diminish our awareness of the evil around us, and it nearly always diminishes our awareness of our own culpability in somehow unconnected with those from whom we turn. Whatever its apparent, momentary advantages might be, turning away is precisely what Satan does.
Our specific hope lies in turning toward. As a result, the sin we suffered is behind us just the same, but that sin is no longer the power that occasioned our turn.
We must prepare the way. We must prepare God’s path to our hearts, to cultivate an awareness of how near the Holy One bides, how immediately he accompanies our every moment, how beautifully and sweetly he attends our every breath. When we turn toward him, therefore, that change is not so much precipitated by aversion as by love. And look! Love is precisely what has—now and long ago—brought God with us.
“Thy birth, O Christ our God, has given rise to the light of knowledge in the world, for they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, O Sun of righteousness, and to acknowledge thee as the sunrise of heaven, O Lord, glory to Thee.”
–Tone IV. Apolytikion of Christmas
“Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The wise men journey with a star! Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!”
–Tone III. Kontakion of Christmas
~From Scott Cairns, “Second Saturday of Advent,” GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe