‘Coming home” is a beautiful description of the heart’s complex longing. It reaches beyond the limitations of location to embrace an unarticulated desire to be at peace with ourselves, to be at peace with those we love and, above all, to be at peace with God. To have achieved such peace is, in the deepest sense, to have come home.
The image of a return figures prominently throughout the Advent season. The prophet Baruch, echoing the vision of Isaiah, invited Jerusalem to throw off the distress of her destruction and to make ready for the glorious return of her scattered children. “Though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you like royal princes carried back in glory. For God has decreed the flattening of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills, so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.”
Although his language is expansive, the prophet’s invitation to return applies to every generation. Sin brings with it a sense of loss. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we can wander far from God’s ways; so much so that we become as strangers in his presence. In a similar manner, sin estranges individuals and societies.
All of this we experience as loss. There is within us all a longing to return to all that has died within us. Advent, in effect, calls us home to the presence of God. It encourages us with the promise fulfilled in Jesus, when the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. To “come home” during Advent is to respond to the Lord’s invitation to make our home in him, as he has made his home in us.
John the Baptist, speaking from a wilderness representing all that sin had lost, called for a return. “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, and every mountain and hill will be laid low. And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”
We prepare for that return by acknowledging the sin that obstructs us from God’s presence. The wilderness of the heart is made all the more forlorn by the hills and valleys of its sinful past. John’s call to prepare a way for the Lord begins with our own repentance, but is continued by the Lord who comes to meet us. As once he came as the Word made flesh, so he comes to us again during this Advent. He longs to make his home in us, and his grace, working within us, prepares the way. He comes as no stranger to the wilderness of the heart.
Repentance, a willingness to be changed, is the first step. In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul reminds us of the daily living that also prepares a way for the Lord. He prays that our love for each other might grow deeper each day. He reminds us that, despite our frailties, God’s good work is already begun within us, and that he will bring it to completion.
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (4/12/15)