Two Flames and Faith

Thomas Aquinas claimed that for those who have faith, no explanation in necessary; for those who do not, none is sufficient. This second week of Advent, two flames burn on the Advent wreath. Each brightens the darkness of night; each testifies to time’s passage. For the faithful, these weeks unwind salvation history in the readings from the Old Testament, and the Gospel. Most importantly, every passage is a reminder that each person has a place in that story, a home in that history. The candles of the second week of Advent are all about that and more.

Faith is at the very heart of Advent. Two flickering flames offer the promise of a pathway. And the journey is really to more than the manger: it is the chance to recognize Jesus as a human being, a teacher, and the Son of the Father. Every step of the way is a beginning, a deepening, a chance to breathe deeply. The readings speak of the centuries of desire, of longing. Isaiah’s prose is unrivaled; it echoes the intricacies of human desire.

40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Once again, the portal to faith is opened. To dare to imagine that there is something beyond what is visible, measurable, and tangible, is audacious. To suggest, or intimate or simply trust, that there is a reality beyond the physical human dimensions is mind-bending. Grasping for understanding, for explanations, for “facts” and unassailable truths and realities is so much a function of humanity. But to suspect that there is more, to dream that there is something beyond, reflects another facet of human life: hope. And it resides in the second reading, from 2 Peter 3: 8-14, “we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.”
Perhaps, then faith is more than irrationality or misplaced confidence in a deity. Perhaps faith is a commitment to something better than what is, a confidence that there is a reality that transcends legal and economic, social and educational systems.

Or perhaps faith is built on something like humility. Maybe it is about realizing that human beings are not the sole proprietors of reality. Maybe it is actually about the chance to recognize that there could be something greater than we are. Maybe that is what John the Baptist’s message was actually all about.

John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
Mark 1:1-8

And so the lights of Advent, tender and tentative now, are invitations to look more deeply at the meaning of faith, at the essence of the journey, and at the possibility that there is a message worth hearing. Advent offers us the chance to understand how small we are in the history of the world and the universe, how very precious our thoughts and experiences are, and how there is so much more to life than what we might suspect.

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