By Guest writer, Carrie Bare
Every year when Advent comes, I am struck by its penetrating themes—-darkness being pierced by light, waiting for a messiah, for a pregnancy to come to term, for darkness to end, and then longing and yearning—wanting something so badly that there is an ache. Advent contains it all.
One of my favorite writers lingers on the concept of longing. Here is a bit of how C. S. Lewis talked about a “permanent sense of longing” which shows up in his deepest Christian beliefs:
He identified this feeling with the idea of Sehnsucht, a German word meaning “longing” or “desire”. Sehnsucht appeared in many of Lewis’ favorite works of literature, including Norse mythology, the poems of Wordsworth, and the children’s stories of George Macdonald. It was “that un-nameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the opening lines of Kublai Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”
Another way of putting it, Sehnsucht is a feeling of nostalgia that faces towards the future. It appears repeatedly in Lewis’ writing. In a beloved passage from Mere Christianity, Lewis uses the concept as an argument for Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The desires that spring up in us—those for love, safety, security, belonging—are never truly satisfied here in this life. Rather, they are pointers to another place, somewhere inaccessible to us now. Like the “forward-facing nostalgia” of Sehnsucht, this feeling points us toward the heavenly home for which we were created.
Israel longed for her messiah to come. Advent hymns reflect this with their minor key yearning—O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Ransom Captive Israel! The sense of being prisoners, languishing in captivity and wanting to be rescued—this is longing.
What are we longing for?
When I think about what I am longing for on campus, I think about one of the saddest lines in scripture: He came to his own and his own did not receive him. This is how John describes what happened when Israel should have been overjoyed that their longing was being fulfilled. His own did NOT receive him. To me, this is absolutely tragic, but it is our human condition and we see it on campus every day. BUT, John goes on to say: to all who did receive him…he gave the right to become the children of God. So, we have hope. We can receive him!