As we continue on the journey of Advent, we are still waiting for the arrival of Christ, our Emmanuel. We long and hope for the coming of our Redeemer, for the one who will bring into the darkness of our sinful world the light of Salvation.
Why, then, is this past Third Sunday of Advent, though still a penitential time in the liturgical calendar, traditionally associated with Joy? Christ hasn’t arrived yet; is the Church jumping the gun by celebrating early? To answer this question, we need to understand what is actually meant by Joy – true Christian Joy. And who better to describe it than C. S. Lewis?
Lewis started out as an ardent atheist. However, he’d had a few rare experiences throughout his life that triggered an unrelated but desperate longing within him for an indescribable Beauty. Though at first confusing it with nostalgia or romanticism (1), the name Lewis ultimately gave this experience of longing was Joy. He explained: “[T]hough the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight. … This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth. “ (2) Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, describes his desperate search for further experiences of this desire. And it was this search, as it turned out, that led him the long way ‘round to Christianity. Lewis came to realize that if this desire was never meant to be satisfied, it could not possibly have the hold upon him that it, in fact, had. In his words: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (3)
Because of this, Lewis understood this desire, this Joyful longing, as a key to our deepest calling as human beings. He concluded: “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside is . . . the truest index of our real situation.” (4)
Here we are, then, in this world, longing for the fulfillment of our deepest desire – which at its heart means being reunited with God. And here we find ourselves as Advent pilgrims, awaiting the redemption of the world. We wait in hope, and in expectant faith. But most especially, firmly established in these first two virtues, we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the Joy of a pilgrim who, having seen the far distant sight of Beauty towards which he walks, longs for it all the more. And it is a Joy that, full of trust in the God of all goodness whose promise of salvation is sure, can never be taken away.
As we approach the coming of Christ our Saviour, let us remember this love, this desire. Let us stoke its fire again. For it is this Beauty, this Joy indescribable, that is our portion as Christians – and its satisfaction, our inheritance.
“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.” (5)
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.