a welcoming, affirming, justice-seeking congregation

December 4, 2011—Advent Two

Longing

by Nancy Sanders

There is a longing in the human heart for something more than meets the eye, something deeper than the reality along the surface of which we skim (and sometimes trudge) in the daily living of our lives. There is a yearning in the human heart for meaning of the ultimate and essential kind—for a sense of purpose to reward our questing and our seeking. There is a hunger, hidden within the human soul, for Mystery, for a sense of The Infinite, the depths of which, by definition, cannot ever be plumbed. But that for which we naturally long also is not just morally neutral. We, as human beings, long for goodness, for kindness, for justice and harmony, for peace and well-being, and, throughout the centuries, the sages who have pursued that longing and delved deep into The Mystery have attested to its goodness—borne witness to its essential positive spirit. When we long for “something more,” then, our longing is for a kind of blessing—a sense of benediction for our lives, and for the world in which we’re living those lives. And I would argue that this longing is universally found among us—that it’s fundamental to our humanity—etched in code on our very DNA. Like the pull for home that makes migrating birds who they are, the longing within us for something more, something real, something kind and good, something true and essential and sacred, makes us who we are, and without it, we would not exist. And, more than that, our innate longing connects us with all of the rest of humanity—now living and throughout history—in its yearning for The Holy and The Good.

Most of the time, though, most of us try to ignore it—this longing in our hearts—and settle for significantly less than the lives we might live were we to follow it in the direction in which it promises—or threatens—to take us. We ignore the longing because, as Pat’s reflections on the theme for this morning suggested, we know that it is likely to take us into the unknown, and that is scary territory for us. And so we try to content ourselves with the way things are now, and with the reality we can see and touch and know with certainty—the physical matrix in which we go about the everyday living of our lives—what the poet W.H. Auden called the world “of darning and the Eight-Fifteen,” . . . “where Euclid’s geometry and Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience, and the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.”[1] A world, in other words, devoid of longing, and bereft of mystery, but knowable, in a quantifiable way, and, therefore, safe. Familiar. Reassuring. Asking very little of us. Requiring no real trust—no faith.

Most of the time, we try to deny this sense of longing any power in our lives whatsoever, and we hand power over to our baser desires for more tangibles, more things, more status, more money, more concrete evidence that all this is worthwhile. We try to convince ourselves that the longing that we inevitably continue to feel will be satisfied by these things, but they don’t satisfy us for long, and so we accumulate more and more, and still the longing will not go away.

It’s Advent. We wonder how the geese knew to begin their practice flights and finally to take off in a V and journey southward, to their winter home, but this time of year, the longing in our own hearts resurfaces, and begins tugging at us again, calling us, once again, into the Mystery. We mistake it for something much less—something that we’ve come to call “The Christmas Spirit”—and we convince ourselves that a frenzy of gift-buying and partying and baking and eating and drinking is evidence of this Spirit and will satisfy our longing, if we get it right—if the bows are tied just so and the shortbread tastes exactly like we remember Grandma’s did. But the longing is at a much deeper level than can be satisfied even by the perfect Christmas feeling, the perfect Christmas tastes and smells and sights and sounds. And the only way to satisfy that deeper longing is to give in to the urge to follow it. There will be costs involved. You will be an oddity, in our world. You will be a dreamer, a romantic, an idealist, unrealistic and naïve. You will be told that you are these things even by the people you love. You will be John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, bearing witness to the Something More that you insist is here with us, though few others will admit to seeing what you see. You will be the fool who gives everything up for the sake of an intangible mystery.

But you will become the creature you were created to be, the person you are called to be, the seeker, the quester, the bold sojourner who makes his way, her way, into the heart of what is truly real, what is truly good, what is holy. You will, in short, be blessed, and your life will become a benediction, a blessing offered to the world.

It’s Advent. Out of the pages of scripture the prophets emerge, speaking words of longing for a world transformed by meaning, mystery and wonder, a world renewed, made over again, good and loving and beautiful. Those words strike a chord in our own hearts, and stir up our own longing, and call us to follow. Let us go, then, even unto Bethlehem, and see this Something More that is being made known in our midst. Amen.

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