For those old enough to remember it is easy to forget, and for those young enough it is easy not to know how uncertain was the future in 1939. In those dark days as the new year approached, King George VI broadcast by radio the lines of an obscure poem:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
On the first Sunday of Advent, the faithful stand at the gate, for this is the beginning of a new year in the cycle of how the Church worships her Creator. The circumstances of the world today seem off-balance in many ways. Beside many domestic challenges is the unspeakable suffering of Christians in the Middle East and far enough away elsewhere to escape the attention of those absorbed in themselves or too timid to call barbarism for what it is.
The weeks of Advent invoke the four facts most important to consider for spiritual maturity: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Here right next to Macy’s, in the heart of the nation’s busiest shopping area, the crushing mob can make it difficult to concentrate on these “Last Things.”
As this past Sunday’s feast declared, Christ is King of the universe. Sovereign as he is over all things including our souls, it is nonetheless possible to shut our minds to him by deceitfulness and to turn our actions away from him by selfishness. Christ limits his access to our mortal souls by an old royal protocol, which William Pitt expressed in terms of earthly monarchs: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.” Our Lord does not invade, but he does invite: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). In Advent he awaits our invitation: “Maranatha”—“Come, Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
In death there is a last chance to open the door: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
We know how things turned out after 1939, but we do not know how they will unfold after 2014. We do know that Christ stands at the gate. As another line in that poem says:
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.