I don’t have to ask you; I know that you’ve had the same experience I’ve often had: I make resolutions, almost always having to do with my behavior toward someone else. The decision to make a change might come at any time, in any place.
As sincere and heartfelt as they are, such resolutions are also always very fragile. Often they die shortly after launching, and the whole process starts all over again as if for the first time. We may actually be saying to ourselves, “Relax! You’re never going to change. This is the way you are. The world won’t end because you’re not perfect. You adjust to other people; let them adjust to you…”
That attitude, that act of giving up, of surrendering, has destroyed countless relationships and weakened as many more. It has kept persons who love each other very much from experiencing the unity and harmony that are meant to increase in good times and in bad. It has denied them the joy of witnessing the resurrection that can follow the little “deaths” they endure together on their shared earthly journey. A disagreement, a violent argument, a misunderstanding can for the moment seem to blot out the love between two persons. They look at each other with near-hatred and wonder how affectionate feelings could ever come back. But if the situation that resulted in such misery is carefully and calmly analyzed by the two of them, and if each is open to alterations in behavior, the apparent death of love gives way to resurrection and the love becomes stronger, purer, and more unselfish than before.
I’ve chosen this approach at the start of Advent because our relationship to God is essentially defined by our relationship to other human beings, especially those who are closest to us and those who are the most disconnected from us. The Jesus whose birth we are memorializing continues to come to us in the person of others.
Of course, we are weak and inconsistent, all of us, to one degree or another. And yes, we are creatures of habit, most good, some bad. We do find it extremely difficult to make significant changes in our patterns of behavior, especially with those we are most intimately bonded to. Yes, we do tend to make peace with a wounded relationship because it seems much too hard to change what needs to be changed, and we are discouraged by our long history of failure.
Human nature, as far as we know, has remained pretty much the same down through the ages, even though our interpretations and understanding of life have constantly evolved. For example, we wouldn’t today blame God for our sinful ways, as the people of Isaiah’s time did. They asked, “Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts…?” This kind of talk expresses the ancient belief that everything that happens on earth is ultimately, not merely permitted or experienced by God, but actually caused by God – an idea that, unfortunately, still exists among us today in some quarters.
We see things much differently. We know that we have free will, but that we are never alone. The presence and power of the Creative Spirit are in and with us always. Because of that, we can go beyond our human limitations and experience love whose depth and resilience we could not possibly achieve on our own.
On this, the first day of a new liturgical year, Advent again summons us to anticipate the coming of Christ into every aspect of our lives, something that cannot happen unless we allow and welcome it. He is at the door, waiting for our response. As we soon celebrate another colorful Christmas, I do hope that we can all say that, as he entered our world two millennia ago, so has he, by our wanting and willing it, moved deeper into our personal lives during these weeks of Advent preparation.