From Advent to Christmas: The Liminality of Joy
Liminality. This word that is seldom used simply means “crossing the threshold,” but it has a powerful role in explaining the meaning of our spiritual growth. Every day
we cross many thresholds and move further to a deeper level of growth. Every time we celebrate our birthday, we cross the threshold of our present age and move into another year of becoming a more mature person. Every time we graduate from one level of education onto another level, we cross a threshold of the learning process and becoming wiser persons able to apply our knowledge to new contexts. Every time we take part in someone’s wedding, we witness the crossing of a threshold: from being single to being a person committed to sharing life with another. There are other examples expressing our liminal experiences, but these suffice to illustrate the three dimensions of liminality: appreciating the past, acknowledging the present, and integrating them into the future.
Even when we enter the twilight age of our life, we continue to answer the invitation to find new meaning in our past and present experiences in order to build up hope for the future. The deeper we enter into these liminal experiences, the more mature we become spiritually, and at the same time we become more aware of the joy of being Christian.
The Advent Season provides us with an invitation to cross the threshold of joy. Signaling the beginning of another liturgical year, Advent invites us to cross the threshold from natural joy to authentic Christian joy. Pope St. Paul VI wrote, “Christian joy presupposes a person capable of natural joy.” (Pope Paul VI, “Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino”, May 9, 1975) What he means by natural joy is the joy of being human in this created world. The joy of being born into this world, the joy of living together with nature, the joy of celebrating birthdays, the joy of finding companions in life, the joy of parents giving birth to their children—these are all our natural joy as humans. Christian joy is not separate from this natural joy. It is the deepening of our natural joy as human beings.
Our joy as Christians is the joy of finding God’s grace supporting us in our life on this earth. If in our natural joy we can be joyful in our growth progress as human beings, through Christian joy we can be joyful even during times of tribulation. Our natural joy gives us the starting point for Christian joy. We can learn how to choose to be hopeful, because we know we can experience the basic meaning of becoming better humans through our growth progress. We can repeatedly choose to hope for more profound meaning even when we cannot see the positive outcome of our progress. This is a sign of Christian joy. Christian joy, thus, is never an instant experience, but results from our perseverance in building hope through every trial and tribulation. If we are faithful in waiting, in building hope through these processes, we will eventually realize that no matter what the external outcome may be, the most important thing in our growth is to find that God is always with us during that process of becoming. This is the process of transitioning from natural joy to Christian joy that we need to experience during this Advent season. In the end, we will find that our life testimony is not about how we celebrate the big events in life. People are more eager to see our lives as a testimony of faithfulness to God throughout the minuscule moments of daily life. We will be able to generate hope not only for ourselves but also for other people by becoming aware that the source of that hope is God who is born within each of us.
Emmanuel. This word, meaning God-with-us, illustrates the result of Christian joy that we want to experience by building up our hope through the season of Advent—the awareness that God is always with us through the birth of Christ in this world. When we dare to move from the historical remembrance of Jesus’ birth and integrate it into the future expectation of his birth in the realities of our own life, we will be granted an awareness that God is willing to dwell with us in this world. Is this not the true joy worthy of our longing during the Advent season?
By Fr. Antonius Firmansyah, SJ