In “the Arrival,” a 1996 Sci-Fi, Charlie Sheen stars as a radio astronomer who scans the heavens for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence. His radio telescope is trained on the stars, hoping to pick up a narrow band of radiation that would belie the communication of an advanced civilization beyond our solar system. A poster on his office wall says, “ARE WE ALONE?”
Sheen is simply a latter-day Magi, scanning the heavens, looking to the stars, asking, “Is there something out there? Something beyond? Is there anybody coming to us? Any hope beyond this tiny planet?”
The delicious ambiguity of Advent is: The Arrival has already happened (two thousand years ago), and yet God’s coming is always a mystery—which means it cannot be seen, understood and known with the eye of the flesh. Only the inner eye can perceive this coming, welcome this arrival.
This is why Advent is a time to quiet down, sit still for a moment, and open that inner eye.
Asking people to do that in the crazed season of December has always been difficult. But now I sense that perhaps more and more people are ready to do something so absurd as to be quiet and still for a moment in December. Not because the culture is getting quieter and calmer of course. Just the opposite. Now that Thanksgiving Day is called Black Thursday and “Christmas” has officially cannibalized another major holiday, I think people are sick of “Christmas.” They are ready to get off that freight train to lunacy.
If you think you might be one of those people, Advent is ever more your season. You can let others rush addlepated into premature Yuletide while you enjoy a season of expectant waiting, scanning the heavens like Sheen, like the Persian astrologers, watching for any sign of a coming that has already arrived, praying only for the grace to see—with that inner eye—what is not only around you, but within you.
Actually, I invite you to do that right now.
Take a deep, cleansing breath. And sit quietly for three minutes. Close your eyes and attend only to the sound of your own breathing (if you’re like me you will also feel your heart beating—even racing—in your chest). But if you stay with it for a few minutes, a mysterious thing happens.
(Let me know what you experience.)
Advent blessings to you.