The longing of God’s chosen people fills the Old Testament.
For generations they are waiting for God to redeem them, to restore their nation, and to enter into a new and lasting covenant with them. They tell their children and their children’s children about His mighty works and the promises God has made to them. While they don’t know how these promises will be fulfilled, they trust that they will be.
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work and muse on all your mighty deeds….You are the God who works wonders, who have manifested your might among the peoples. With your arm you redeemed your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.Psalm 77:11-12, 14-15
For years I’ve viewed the birth of Christ as the end to their waiting and a fulfillment of their longing. All that they were waiting for was there, wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. The King they were waiting for had come. We celebrate Christmas with that in mind: the Hope of the Nations is born and so we rejoice.
Yet this year I was filled with a recognition that one of the most important moments in human history happened and yet virtually nobody knew about it at the time. Similar to the quiet yet monumental yes at Mary’s Annunciation, the birth of Jesus took place in a relatively hidden way. Angels told some shepherds and wise men arrived from the east, yet as a whole, Israel was unaware of what was happening in their midst.
On the day after Christ’s nativity, they awoke….and didn’t know that anything was different than the week before. They still longed for a king and awaited the redemption of Israel. Yet He was there, the little King, already laboring to save them. When they gathered in the synagogue to pray, recalling the promises and the works of God, they did not know that the incarnate God was with them. As they provided work for St. Joseph, they did not know that it was the God-man who crafted and created alongside him.
Christ was living and working in the world and yet the world did not know it.
For thirty years, Christ was hidden. He lived the ordinary life of a son, a neighbor, a faithful Jew, and a carpenter. People laughed, worked, ate, prayed, talked, and experienced life with the God-man and did not know it. The One an entire nation longed for washed His feet to remove the dust, ate His mother’s food, and slept deeply after a day of laboring.
He was there, known and yet unknown.
Perhaps the same is true for us, too. He enters our lives and dwells there, even while we still long for His coming. Unable to recognize an appearance other than the illusion we imagine, we think God is delayed in His arrival. We have these longings and desires and cannot see how God is laboring in those very areas because He isn’t working as we want, as we expect, as we imagine He should.
He is present, even in the longing.
For much of Advent and into this Christmas season, I have been captivated by the idea that Jews during the time of Jesus didn’t know they were in the very presence of God. As the people of Israel prayed for a Savior to be sent, God was in the process of sending one. He was crafting the lineage, preparing their hearts, placing words on the prophets’ tongues to proclaim, and moving everything toward salvation. They just couldn’t see how all of it was a part of God’s magnificent plan.
And maybe I am so captivated by this because I often have a similar ignorance. The moment or area where He seems absent, He is merely hidden. My longing for Him comes face-to-face with the recognition that, by virtue of my baptism, He already dwells within me. He is here and yet He is also preparing the way for a greater and deeper coming. While present, He desires to be even more present, made possible when I let Him become a resident in my heart and not merely a guest I invite occasionally.
It is Christmas and yet the advent of the Lord is unyielding. We rejoice at His presence in the manger and in the sanctuary of our hearts. And we wait expectantly for an even deeper union, one that is being worked on right now, in the hidden recesses of our soul, unseen and yet very real.
Come, Lord Jesus. Grant us the grace to recognize Your presence and to welcome You into every moment of our day and every aspect of our life. Thank You for the work You are doing, the work You have done, and the work You will do.