O Come O Come Emmanuel

Candles at the Christmas Tree Lighting 2015

It’s the hour of vespers, sundown, and I hear my landlady crying through the shared wall of our apartments. The sound of her muffled weeping travels along old copper pipes, and I hear her clearest in the bathroom, which is furthest from her. “Why doesn’t God take me,” she begs of her live-in caregiver. She is in her 90s, and the last of her generation. Her husband died over a decade ago, her only sister died last year. Hers is not survivor guilt, she feels abandonedlike a girl whose friends have left for a party without her. There’s a rhythm to these crying jags, soon it will become a wail. Now and then, a neighbor’s dog will howl along.

Sharing another wall is a neighbor who lives with her husband and four children. The baby, a long-awaited daughter, cries when her mother leaves the room and turns out the light. I hear my neighbor calling from downstairs, urging the baby, who is wriggling in her crib, to go to sleep, that she will see her in the morning. It will come before she knows it.

Before her death, my mother lived in the tiny apartment below mine. One night, I woke to the sound of desperate shouts rising through my floorboards: “Daddy! Daddy! Hurry!” She was, of course, asleep. She didn’t remember the next morning what nightmare required her father’s urgent arrival.

It’s just before Advent, and I am reading C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. I realize: no matter what category a love fits most neatly into, they are all expressions of yearning to be together and the universal grief caused by being left alone. Lewis suggests that the natural loves are all, in some way, faint reflections of our longing for the divine presence.

At Advent, I wait for the Christ because I yearn for Your company. I wonderdo You wait for me? Do You long for my presence? Do You soothe Yourself, year after year, with the promise of “someday?” I have a name for You at Christmas: it’s God With Us. Do You have a hope-filled name for me that means We Are Together?

+ Read more from our series of Advent reflections here.