“Why,” he asked, “does the Church spend the whole of Advent praying, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ when it knows perfectly well that he is already here in fact in the tabernacle, and in our hearts through grace? Why don't you just thank him for being present, instead of play-acting and pretending that he isn't?” Then he sat back massively in his chair, satisfied, and exhaled sharply through his nose. “But you’ve come to this Advent retreat!” I said to him in my mind. “Why didn't you stay at home and just make visits to the Blessed Sacrament?” Out loud is said, “That’s a very good question!”
The Lord is here and not here: how can we make sense of that? Imagine someone whose only musical interest is rock. He is in a room with others where they are playing, say, the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The music fills the room and every crevice in it. It fills the ears of every person there, and reverberates through every brain. It holds nothing back, it gives itself completely. It fills the minds and hearts, it evokes a deep emotion in everyone there...except the lone rocker. He has perfect hearing in the physical sense, but he is deaf to this music. The music is present to him and not present. In some such way, the Lord is present to us and not present.
It would probably be better to say: the Lord is present to us but we are not present to him. When I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” I am asking (in the words of St Augustine) that he “break through my barrier of deafness.” ‘Breaking’, however, seems a very strong word in the context. ‘Rupisti’ is the Latin word Augustine used, and it means ‘to break, burst, shatter, rend’. This would seem to be more like the effect of rock music! Yet Augustine's feeling for music was so strong that he was a little afraid of it. With this word and with other words in the same passage of the Confessions he wanted, no doubt, to stress the power of God’s coming. It is not violent power but a power of attraction, as he stresses repeatedly in other passages. The word ‘attractive’ comes from Latin trahere, which means ‘to pull’ (this is also where tractors come from!). God draws rather than pushes us. And Jesus did not say, “Move on there, you!” but “Come, follow me.”
“You called me,” wrote Augustine, “you cried aloud to me; you broke through my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for you. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I burned for your peace.”
Hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch: all his senses aspire to God, everything in him reaches upwards, his whole being is a longing for God. Augustine plays all the keyboards and stops of that immense organ called language; all his senses had found their paths to his soul. Beside him I feel like someone picking out a rough tune with one or two fingers. God is a language.
Notice that Augustine puts hearing first; we would probably have put sight. For reasons that go back a long way in western culture we put absolute faith in the eye-witness. But the eye-witness is only an on-looker, not really involved at all; yet he feels eminently qualified to give a definitive account of what is going on. Hearing is different: the sound envelops you; you cannot stand so coldly outside, observing. We cannot see God, “no one has ever seen God”, but the Word of God is spoken for our hearing.
The Advent liturgy is an education in desiring and waiting, an education in longing with all our being for God and for the coming of his Christ.