"Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain You? Do indeed the very heaven and the earth, which You have made, and in which You have made me, contain You?"*
St. Augustine's words echo into the darkness of a cold night. They sound haunting in their doubt but hopeful in their wonder. Is there anything that can contain? Of course we know that this is the night when creation contains the Creator of the stars. This is the night the Incarnate sleeps in a manger in Bethlehem - the feeding trough in the House of Bread. This is the night that will culminate "when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness"**. This is the night when the filled vessels, "should they even be broken...will not be poured forth".
I often have a dreadful sense just before the end of Advent that the season was overlooked. Much of this has to do with being a student and the fact that early to mid December is consumed by finals, packing, and travelling - not to mention the hectic fury of seasonal consumerism. Sometimes it feels as if all of Advent is condensed within the hours leading up to Midnight Mass. Final preparations for both tonight and tomorrow are made and still we glance at the clock in anticipation. King's College has live streamed their last Advent Lessons and Carols and the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur has broadcasted their Midnight Mass. Outside falls rain after another day of grey mist and fog inspiring the thought of London (and not even a Dickensian Christmas at that). Still, in Eastern Standard Time we wait. We're promised it won't be long, but we continue to ask how soon? Presently the uneasiness of a weak Advent will be forgotten in song and the warmth of incense and candlelight.
Not yet, but soon.
Not yet, but soon.
Anyone who has ever patiently waited for something has experienced immense joy at receiving the object of desire. Given time, however, this feeling of happiness usually dims and gradually gives way to complacency or even blatant dissatisfaction. The beauty of Christmas is that when we receive the long awaited it is incapable of bringing us complacency and incapable of dissatisfying. Augustine resounds: "And when You are poured forth on us, You are not cast down, but we are uplifted; nor are You dissipated, but we are drawn together."
We are close to joy because we know that even before morning we can contain, as the heaven and the earth, more than our fill. Gloria in excelsis Deo. It is nearly midnight.
*The Confessions (Book I Chapter 2-3)
** Pascal Exultate