Copernicus and Galileo faced the wrath of the Church for suggesting that the earth was not the centre of the universe; that in fact the sun was the centre of a solar system around which plane t s revolved , the earth being just one o f them . The uproar this scientific discovery caused has introduced into our language the term “Copernican revolution”.
A newly born baby arrives on Planet Earth as the centre o f the universe – well, at least, as the centre of its parents’, grandparents’, siblings’ and extended family’s universe. It takes a Copernican revolution – which can last a whole lifetime – to overcome our self centredness, literally. There is no growth in holiness that does not include a break away from the cocoon of ego-self. As the poet Rilke says in one of his Sonnets to Orpheus, “what’s locked in sameness is congealed.”
Last week we explored the “Advent within”, reflecting on how the Holy Spirit’s grace works within us, helping us to overcome selfishness and pride to make space for the life of Christ to dwell within us. Today we consider “Advent between”, that is, the way God comes to us in self-transcending human relationships.
One of the most beautiful Advent symbols of this is Mary’s visit to Elizabeth on hearing news during her own annunciation that her cousin was pregnant. In her poem celebrating this encounter, Sarah O’Brien muses: “She came to me, the mother of my Lord / and grinned with amazement at the sight. / All creation with me seemed to roar. / Her voice, as she crossed the threshold of my door / rang through my womb – from a great height / all creation with me seemed to roar.”
True love between people causes all of creation to rejoice. Why else do we get together to celebrate a m a r ri a g e ? T h e couple want the whole world to know o f their commitment in love. The intimacy of marriage, the beauty of true friendship, makes its advent as pure gift. As a Trinity, God is a community who draws us into the divine circle of loving communion. St Thomas Aquinas says that the only way to understand this mystery is to begin with what we do know and experience: human relationships.
“Ja-nee”, we might say in South Africa. Let’s not fool ourselves; relationships sour, they become fraught, they die – thanks in no small part to that Ego which remains with us, like babies still thinking we’re the centre of the universe. But this is no cause to lose hope, or to deny the goodness, truth and beauty of love. God is love, constantly loving us back into life – the life of our true self – through the Advent of Jesus. He has shown us the true meaning of love as other-centred, as self-sacrificing, as altruistic and compassionate. Remember the washing of the disciples’ feet? This, said Jesus afterwards, is how you must love one another in humble service. In fact, he likened acts of service and kindness to the perfection of laying down one’s life for one’s friends. John’s Gospel makes clear that both are manifestations of perfect love.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Come into my immediate relationships. Come and teach me to love others as you have loved us.