Advent: Christ living among us

It’s hard to believe, but the season of Advent begins this weekend! Are we ready? In the words of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, “Advent is not just four weeks in which to prepare for Christmas. Advent is the Church’s life. Advent is Christ’s presence, and will bring about God’s true reign, telling us, humanity, that Isaiah’s prophecy is now fulfilled: Emmanuel — God with us.”

Reflecting on the words of Archbishop Romero on Advent, it reminded me of one of my favorite stories that we had often used during YES! Retreat team formation and I may have used it in this column before, however, it really speaks to me of the message of Advent. There are dozens of versions of this story and I’m not sure of the original author, but this is close to a version by Dr. M. Scott Peck.

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. It was once a great order, but because of persecution, all its branch houses were lost and there were only five monks left in the decaying house: the abbot and four others, all more than 70 in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi occasionally used for a hermitage. For some reason, the old monks could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods” they would whisper. It occurred to the abbot that a visit to the rabbi might result in some advice to save his monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot to his hut. But when the abbot explained his visit, the rabbi said, “I know how it is. 

“The Spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” 

So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and spoke of deep things. When the abbot had to leave, they embraced each other. “It has been wonderful that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me that would help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. But, I can tell you that the Messiah lives among you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the rabbi say?” 

“The rabbi said something very mysterious, it was something cryptic. He said that the Messiah lives among us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the time that followed, the old monks wondered whether there was significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah lives among us? “Could he possibly have meant one of us monks? If so, which one?”

“Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for always being there when you need him. He just magically appears. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.”

As they contemplated, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

People still occasionally came to visit the monastery in its beautiful forest to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even to meditate in the dilapidated chapel. As they did so, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely compelling about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery to picnic, to play, to pray. They brought their friends to this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another, and another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and Spirituality in the realm.

So as we begin this Advent season, let’s remember that the Messiah lives among us and is in us. Archbishop Oscar Romero reminds us in these thoughts on Advent: “Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the Face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to Himself.”

Yes! That is what Advent is: Christ living among us. Seen Him lately? Been Him lately?

Anchor columnist Deacon Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 36 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and an nine-month-old grandson. Comments, ideas or suggestions? Please email him at

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