Sermon: Longing and Yearning
Will things ever be the way they used to be? This is the question increasingly on our minds, especially as we celebrate this holiday weekend in a perhaps awkward or artificial way, or just not in the same way to which we are accustomed or with the people we would have liked to se. Will things ever be normal again?
There is a longing present in our hearts. A longing for those we love, a longing for stability, a longing for connection. The human person, after all, is not a virtual reality, but a physical being of body and soul who is meant to encounter God not only in the ethereal realms but in the concrete particulars of the here and now.
Today we begin the holy season of Advent, the time of watching and waiting for the Lord – a time of longing. The Lord tells us today that we should be watchful and alert because we are preparing not only to celebrate His birth 2,020 years ago at Bethlehem, but preparing also for His coming again in glory. If today we feel somewhat unnatural, somewhat out of place – if we are longing for something more, then that longing is not all bad, but is something we can use this Advent season to turn our hearts toward Christ, for whom they should long with all their might.
Longing for the way things used to be is a natural reaction to hardship and adversity. We long for the ease that we used to experience. Nostalgia is not only experienced by the elderly, but by all of us who can remember joy in our past. But the human heart has only a limited capacity for longing. If all its longing is focused on what used to be, then we will not long for what could be and what will be.
Longing only for the past can keep us from missing the ways that God wants to meet us here and now. The prophet Isaiah expresses a desire we all share at times: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you.” We want to see God do something extraordinary. We forget that God’s desire is not to overwhelm us with His awesome might, because His chief desire is not for our submission, but for the love of your whole heart.
Within each challenging situation, each hardship, there is a way the Lord wants us to grow, and a way that we are meant to bring His light to those around us. But even more importantly, wherever we are in life, this is the place where God wants to encounter you right now. He doesn’t need you to be somewhere else. He has you right where He wants you.
Early on in seminary, struggling with learning a new language, making new friends, navigating a very different world on the other side of the globe, my spiritual director asked me, “Why do you think God brought you here?” “Well,” I responded, “I guess there is something I’m supposed to learn here that I wouldn’t have learned at home, or some way that I’m supposed to impact someone’s life whom I otherwise wouldn’t have met, or some way that I’m supposed to grow that I wouldn’t have grown if I were back at home in the US with the people I know and trust.” “That could be true,” he told me, “but there’s a deeper reason. This is where God wants to encounter you right now.”
Now, let’s be clear. God has absolutely no need of us. There is no man-shaped hole in God’s heart. But He has arranged all of human history so that we could help show His power and glory by allowing His loving plan of redemption to be realized in our lives. Even though He absolutely does not need anything we could give us, in the person of His Son, from His agony on the Cross, He said: “I thirst,” with longing for your love.
So often we think that we are being held back from progress in our relationship with God by someone or something else. If the pandemic would just end, if we would have a different priest, or a different Pope, or if my hours at work would change, if my kids would come back to the Church, or if, or if, or if. Jesus thirsts for you, longs for you, regardless of what anyone else does. The “or ifs” are just excuses.
During this holiday season we might be missing a lot. Some will miss holiday concerts, or getting to sing their favorite hymns. Others will miss family members, gatherings, and games. But whatever longings we experience, we should allow that interior pain to bring us back to the source of all goodness and joy, to remind us that an even greater longing ought to fill our hearts.
We might be tempted to fill those empty spaces in our hearts with other things. In the summer of this year, nationwide homicide rates increased 53%. 13% of adults admitted to starting or increasing substance abuse. 39% of people who were in recovering from addictions relapsed. Drug overdose deaths increased by 20%. Calls to domestic abuse hotlines doubled. Child exploitation increased. And distributers of so-called “adult material” online connived to give their content away for free to addict more people to a life of unfulfilled and unhealthy longing.
God has brought all of us to this place of longing this Advent so that we might yearn more deeply for Christ. If we focus only on the way things used to be, we will miss how He wants to encounter us here and now, and fill our hearts’ longing with unhealthy replacements, or worse yet, miss the longing that we ought to have for the day when the fullness of His plan will be realized and “all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” The false and empty longings proposed by the world are never the end of the story.
We hear St. Paul today encourage the Church at Corinth to watch and wait patiently for the Lord. He tells them, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is really an astounding statement. Just think about it: You are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Now I don’t know about you, but when I look at myself, I can think of a lot of spiritual gifts that I seem to lack! But that is what happens when we only look at ourselves. When we focus not on ourselves but on what Christ has done for us, how He has redeemed us from sin and death and continues to give Himself to us as He thirsts for our love, how He gives us His very own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in Holy Communion – yes, we can say that we too are not lacking in any spiritual gift. We seem to lack those gifts because we haven’t fully developed their use, but we can trust that they really are present inside us if we are living in a state of grace.
Paul continues, “He will keep you firm to the end.” We may not think that we have the strength to persevere at times, but Christ promises us today that He will keep us firm until the end, not lacking in any spiritual gift. The longings present in our hearts remind us of the greatest longing of all – for Christ’s presence with us here and now and for an eternity with Him in Heaven. “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” and one day, even the longing will be no more.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
I Sunday of Advent, A.D. MMXX
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