The Holy Ache of Advent

This is a guest post by Michael Sanem, originally published at his blog Incarnation is Everywhere.


“The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jackhammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need nor want, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the plastic tree, the cornball creche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can’t see, or don’t.”

– Frederick Buechner

I used to love all things Christmas: the family gatherings, the long school break, the anxious anticipation for gifts and the magic sense of electricity filling the air. Everything became special and wonderful, right in the heart of winter.

But as the years pass the old electric sense of wonder sputters, the decorations which once charmed begin to look cheap, and the drinks that once gave delight give heartburn. Christmas delights may have dimmed, but in this darkness I’ve found a new appreciation for Advent.

Advent slices through the superficial. Advent calls us to rend our hearts and acknowledge all that remains unfulfilled in us, every desire that remains unmet. It is a time to embrace an inner longing that in our wisest moments we know nothing this side of eternity can fulfill. So maybe the spirit is working when we become a bit disillusioned any of the shallow comforts Christmas can provide.

As I draw closer to the divine in silence and waiting, I find that what I long for is that which is beyond words, beyond images. At the deepest level of soul and spirit, I need God, and nothing else.

And strangely enough, when I realize this, when I honor this ache, Christmas becomes possible again. I join again the whole broken human family, desperately aching for God.

Michael J. Sanem is a Catholic family man living in Kansas City. He teaches and writes about Christ present to all people, especially those at the margins, where he is privileged to minister.

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12 replies

  1. Talk about touching the HEART of things – I am weeping at the beauty and truth written here. Thanks for sharing your struggle – it gives words to mine, the ache for God – alone — with others.

  2. Thank you for sharing your truth and for giving expression to that inner, at times unspeakable, ache. This stopped me in my tracks today. I needed to stop.

  3. Advent is my favorite ;liturgical season because it can be so conducive to that deeep silence if we chose to allow it. Then all the preparations for Christmas take on a sacred meaning

  4. This advent, I ache for, and with God! In a sense, meaning, I yearn to fill my beign with God, yet, as I witness the atrocities being done in this country and around the globe, I can’t help but feel God’s pain deep in the depths of my soul.
    OH COME, OH COME EMMANUEL! Takes a new meaning for me.
    Merry Christmas to all!
    May God’s blessings be upon of you!

  5. Liked its conclusion, but didn’t care for the peevish tone of the Buechner quotation. Very glad I continued on to the article, which was simple and powerful. Thank you!

  6. Wow did you enter my heart, no my whole body at this time. May you have a Blessed Christmas

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