“As the deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.”
—Psalm 42:1, NRSV
Yes, I know it’s all about God. But give me a minute to long. Or rather…therefore let me long.
Yes, longing. As in “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus…joy of every longing heart.” If you asked me to strip it down to the essentials of what this human thing is all about this side of eternity I’d say it was something like this—we burn, we desire, we hunger, we…long.
Which begs the question: Can you know the joy without a longing heart? Could you ever be a Lover without desiring, and being desired by, the Beloved?
Advent gives us time to savor the delicious tension of the long longing. Even if, most of the time, we’d like to be relieved of it. “Please, if you would, fast forward to the resolution. Save the hard work in darkness for the montage, like Creed preparing for the title fight. Zip us to the ring, the bell, the roaring crowd. In this case, zip us to Christmas and tell us it all turns out right in the end.”
Which, of course, it does. But only after Christ on the cross has exposed the world and each human heart for what it is: a cauldron of unruly desire.
Fleming Rutledge notes our cultural tendency to cast
The call is coming from inside the house! The chaos is within! Something Jamie Quatro gets just right in In her scandalous, luminous novel, Fire Sermon. Quatro places these words in the voice of Maggie, her protagonist, as she is agonizing over the implications of an affair:
My point being that a blessed Advent might bring us what Quatro calls the gift of learning “to long acutely.” Like those wise attendants awaiting the bridegroom in Matthew 25, a disciplined tending of the flame turns out to be the most important activity in which we can engage.
And we are not alone in this. The whole cosmos, it turns out, is on fire. Deer pant after God. The whole creation groans with labor pains. “And what is wind,” KimberlyJohnson asks in a Holy Saturday poem, “but a dialect of longing?—: the high/pressure rushing to fill the low…No wonder/the
So what befits an Advent more, than a whetted appetite for a discontented God?
Alex Joyner is a United Methodist pastor on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and editor of the Heartlands site.