Advent is a time of waiting in joyful hope, but it is also a time in darkness. It is a season when we confront the darkness of sin and death brought about by the Fall. As we wait in growing darkness, illuminated by candlelight, we come to see even more clearly our need for a Savior. We are reminded what Original Sin has wrought in our members and that it cost the crucifixion of Our Lord so that He could offer Himself in our stead and bring about our redemption. The manger at Christmas lies in the shadow of the Cross.
As we descend into the darkness of this time of year and ponder salvation history while we await the great feast of Christmas, we are reminded of the darkness within each of us. All of us have dark places that need the healing light only Christ can provide. We see, however, that as we fall, as we often fail and do “the very thing we hate”, we yearn for the light. Even as evil exists within us and as we battle the sins that enslave us, we know that we are made for something more. Bishop Robert Barron, in his book And Now I See, explains this struggle:
“The Christian answer to these questions is contained in the doctrine of the imago Dei. There is indeed something terribly the matter with us, and there is, at the same time, something foundational good, something “divine” at the heart of us, a power or principle that keeps us hoping and living and striving. As the weed pushes its way through the harsh cement of the city sidewalk, so the human soul grows stubbornly and almost inexplicably toward the light.”
Even though we are terribly wounded by the Fall, the Image of God (imago Dei) is never completely stamped out of us. The light of God that radiates through us continues to be present even as we fail, give into weaknesses, and sin. It is what causes us to return repeatedly back to the light of God, even after we commit great evil. The war within our members cannot overcome this “divine” part of us.
As we journey through this Advent season, we are reminded that we are in fact sick and in need of the Divine Physician to heal and bind our wounds. Even as we are redeemed through Baptism, we find ourselves falling short of the imago Dei within us and so we must continue to allow God to transform us in our daily lives. Advent shows us that we still need transformation. We often forget or overlook this dimension of this time of year.
We are not called to remember the events of salvation history from a distance, rather, we are called to enter into the darkness within our own souls so that the Word made flesh can dwell more fully in our hearts. You and I still need Christ to shed His light in those dark places we hide from Him and from others. This is the beginning of metanoia or “soul transformation.” Bishop Barron states:
“We must know and, more to the point, feel in our bones, what is wrong with us; we must look it in the face and acknowledge it with uncompromising honesty. Without this “searching moral inventory,” without this journey into our own inner Hell, we will not feel the compunction to shift our way of being and seeing. And, at the same time, we must awaken what is god-like in us, what is rich and fecund and unbroken, what is in continuity with the saving designs of God.”
We cannot fully allow God to transform us if we do not enter into the recesses of our own soul and seek to open ourselves up to God’s grace working in the darkest parts of us; the parts that cause us the most shame and pain. We all have them, but often we ignore them until they coming bubbling to the surface and surprise us. In reality, they won’t surprise us so much if we understand what the Fall has done to us and we focus on our constant need for a Savior. This is not to view ourselves as depraved or to lead us into despair. Instead, it is how God begins to bring us more and more into the light and into the freedom only He can give to us.
We must understand, however, that this descent into the darkness within our own selves is arduous. Bishop Barron honestly explains the difficulty:
“Confronting one’s own shadow, the spirit masters concur, is always a dangerous business, and the road to healing is always blocked; hence courage is called for.”
As we progress spiritually and find ourselves facing these dark places within us, fear can overtake us. The assault of the flesh, the world, and the Enemy can seem overwhelming. We may feel ourselves failing and think that we are not up to the task. It tends to be when things seem darkest that grace heals and strengthens us the most. Christ is always working for our salvation and this descent into our own personal Hell is not done alone. He is with us and the light He gives to us is not extinguished by the darkness we find within us. This is a part of the process of “soul transformation”. The descent to the deep places within is non-negotiable in the spiritual life. It must be done. We cannot progress in holiness without confronting ourselves at some point in time. It is precisely this requirement that so many people avoid.
Advent is a call to enter into darkness. It is as we walk into ever darker nights in preparation for the Christ child, Our Savior, that we should ask Him to reveal the sinful places within us and the wounds we carry. We must ask Him to give us the strength and fortitude to walk into those places we do not want to have to confront. By allowing Him to lead us through that darkness, we will find ourselves being transformed from the deepest levels of our being and we will begin to radiate even more the imago Dei within us out towards others. We will be transfigured. We will be free to see as He sees and to love as He loves. Let us pray that God may transfigure each one of us so that we can shine like the sun when “the dawn from on high breaks upon us” this Christmas.