Advent and letting down our defenses

Today is the first Sunday, and first day of Advent. It is also the start of a new year.  Ever since one of my spiritual directors suggested it several years ago, I have also had the practice of praying an Ignatian Examen of the entire year on the last day before Advent. I spend time reflecting in the presence of God about where God was most visibly present in my life and relationships. Where did I grow to be more loving, and where did I resist? For what am I most grateful?

This year, my thoughts of gratitude ranged across on a variety of moments: a summer trip to Ireland with my husband and an especially beautiful afternoon walking in complete silence down a windy path on the island of Inis Oirr, surrounded by vines blossoming with flowers; a breakfast at our B and B in Dingle, where we were delighted suddenly to have a herd of cows walk right past the full length glass door where we were dining; a reconciled relationship that took place in a most surprising way; the gift of health and healing for a family member with illness; a stunning rainbow halfway through my summer retreat; creative energy for new course to teach and new writing project to write; and many more places where God was found, most of them totally unplanned.

This practice also helps to think purposefully about Advent. What do I hope for in Advent? Of course, what I desire most is Christ himself. But it helps us to consider what would that look like, more concretely? Where are the relationships and spaces that we would hope for Christ to enter into more deeply ? Or where we are resistant , what would it look like to surrender more fully to the Lord in those particular ways? A good Jesuit friend , who now lives in S Africa, once described his experience of Advent as “a time when God gently breaks through all of our defenses”. I have always liked that description. It helps for me to think about places where I can get a little defended, and to consider what further surrender might look like. “Surrender” here is not like the surrender of an army to an enemy, but rather more like the surrender of letting oneself be kissed by a lover, whose tender care is deeply known.

In the first reading for Sunday, the prophet Jeremiah writes about how God will fulfill God’s promise to Israel. Originally, Jeremiah was speaking at a time when the kingdom of Judah was threatened by external political forces such as the Babylonian empire. Destruction lay all around, yet Jeremiah said that God would eventually restore Israel. I imagine that this was hard for the people who heard Jeremiah to believe. The evidence around them did not give much reason to hope. But Jeremiah says the hope is not to be found in political forces. The reason for hope is God’s promise.

For us, too, God’s promise is trustworthy because God loves us infinitely: each one of us is completely loved by God– the way that a mother loves her newborn child, or like a couple deeply in love, or the way that marriage or friendship that spans decades grows deep roots—and much, much more. God’s promise is trustworthy because of who God is. Our human limits do not, and can not, diminish anything of that core, foundational Love that is God: “God is love” (1 John 4:16).

This is why we can let down our defenses in Advent—just a little bit more than last year— because God’s friendship with us is reliable and God’s care always faithful. As this Advent begins, we can also consider how we want to be more faithful to God, too, by considering where we might love a little more the way that God loves—unreservedly, unguardedly, without fear or trepidation. What would it mean to love in our personal relationships with a little more vulnerability? What would it mean to love others politically, with greater trust in the goodness and lovability of the stranger, the outsider, the one my community considers as “other”?

God wants to bring life and love into all of the spaces in our world. Where do we want to open the door a little wider to invite God in?