ADVENT: FIRST SUNDAY

An abyss of light and under all our grumblings, a subconscious substance of gratitude.

There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our grumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude. – G. K. Chesterton, Chaucer, 1932

That “abyss of light” reminds us of the Imago Dei in each of us as we begin this season of Advent together….

Shakespeare saw it and wrote of it as a “little candle…in a naughty world”.  And oh, how the world has grown more naughty since his time and how much we are needed to be “The Light of the World“, shining as Christ for others:

“That light we see is burning in my hall.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world…So doth the greater glory dim the less. A substitute shines brightly as a king.”

– William Shakespeare, Portia, Act V-Scene I, The Merchant of Venice

Yes, when we do what God calls good, when we make a stand to obey God by “keeping an oath or vow even when it hurts, and don’t change our mind” (Psalm 15:4) then the light of God, his Imago Dei, shines through in a dark and wicked world as a witness. And a “substitute” – us – “shines brightly as a king” – Christ.

In the book and film, Willy Wonka, we have a variation of that quote from Shakespeare when Wonka says:

“So shines a good deed in a weary world”

Yes, we are all weary when we see the constant lack of true love and the increasing choice to do what is self-serving and wicked in an ever darkening world. Indeed, this is what Jesus is talking about when he describes the great court case we are all involved in and the hope he and his sacrifice on the Cross and his promise to return again, offer to those who choose and ask to come into the Light:

“And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19)

But Jesus again reminds us that if we press on when it seems darkest, He will reward our efforts: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” ( Galatians 6:9)

Come into the light if only a single candle where you are.  And “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)


This shining in a dark world is not easy for any of us.  Even Chesterton acknowledged that and how, again as Shakespeare noted, we all have a point where we ask the question of being or not being. Chesterton answered that question with the gift that Christ brought into this world: His Light, even if at first we can see only “the abyss of light“.

“There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our grumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude. That light of the positive is the business of the poets, because they see all things in the light of it more than do other men. Chaucer was a child of light and not merely of twilight, the mere red twilight of one passing dawn of revolution, or the grey twilight of one dying day of social decline. He was the immediate heir of something like what Catholics call the Primitive Revelation; that glimpse that was given of the world when God saw that it was good; and so long as the artist gives us glimpses of that, it matters nothing that they are fragmentary or even trivial; whether it be in the mere fact that a medieval Court poet could appreciate a daisy, or that he could write, in a sort of flash of blinding moonshine, of the lover who “slept no more than does the nightingale”. These things belong to the same world of wonder as the primary wonder at the very existence of the world; higher than any common pros and cons, or likes and dislikes, however legitimate. Creation was the greatest of all Revolutions. It was for that, as the ancient poet said, that the morning stars sang together; and the most modern poets, like the medieval poets, may descend very far from that height of realization and stray and stumble and seem distraught; but we shall know them for the Sons of God, when they are still shouting for joy. This is something much more mystical and absolute than any modern thing that is called optimism; for it is only rarely that we realize, like a vision of the heavens filled with a chorus of giants, the primeval duty of Praise.” – G.K. Chesterton, Chaucer, 1932

Fear conquered by hope

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