In the four weeks of Advent, the Church stops us from skimming on the surface of reality: eating, working, shopping, sleeping, waking up and doing it all over again. These are part of the dance of life, but they are not its sum. “Angst” is a neurosis stemming from an unwillingness to face the Choreographer behind the choreography. Those threadbare philosophers who made existence an “ism” were very anxious indeed, smoking their cigarettes in cafes across the street from vacant churches.
A culture trapped in its own existence becomes no greater than itself. That old maxim perdures no matter how many times it is repeated: “A man wrapped up in himself becomes a very small package.” More important than wrapping gifts in Advent, is the obligation to unwrap the self: to confess to Christ the sins that belittle his image in man, and to live life as he wants it, so that we might rejoice with him forever and never be separated from him.
Our culture is enduring a severe test of itself. If Christ does not govern minds and hearts, mere humans will volunteer to do it, and they will do it badly. When the Judges of Israel could think only about their own existence with reference to how other people existed apart from divine regiment, they wanted a human king. Samuel warned them: “He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his officials…. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become slaves” (1 Samuel 8:14, 17). These days, he will take a lot more than ten per cent.
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