As soon as November comes to an end many people ask each other the same question: “What are you doing for Christmas?” This sounds to me very much like the question people usually ask in February, enquiring about any discipline chosen for Lent. In a way there is a relationship here, since the season of Advent is as much a journey as Lent. Is this the advent of a legion of aid organizations asking to support their cause? Or are Christians hoping for something more?
The word Advent originates in Latin adventus which means coming. As far as language goes, the form of the word coming points to a process, something that is not complete yet. What then are we waiting for? Are we waiting?
In Oxford Street the illuminations light the way for the Big Rush which is the pilgrimage of the Christmas shoppers. They moan ‘I need a present for Auntie Joan - and another one for my office colleague – and cards for the clients!’ One could certainly become negative over the hubbub that marks a time that was meant to be set aside as a period of anticipation and spiritual renewal. What strikes me – and moves me, too – is the fact that Advent and Christmas are also observed by those who otherwise never go to Church or express belief in the Christian faith. Sometimes I think this is the walk God grants those who do not yet believe, in the hope that one day they will. How does their kind of journey compare with the believers’ walk through the four weeks of Advent?
The word adventus is the same word as parousia which is used for the Second Coming of Christ. Since no one knows when this will happen we set aside the four weeks of Advent to prepare ourselves for this Second Coming, watching and waiting, and the Sunday readings guide us through this preparation: First we are sorry for our disobedience, then God speaks to pardon and reassure us, then we are sent out and the culmination of that journey is that we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
What has this to do with the Second Coming, you might ask. Last month I have looked at what the Kingdom of God may be like: just, loving, without poverty and violence, to name just a few conditions. During Advent the Church and its members try to anticipate this state of heavenly bliss by their actions and way of life to prepare for the birth of God in human form. I often wonder what it would be like if everyone did that and kept it up all the time?
We could live in harmony, without fear and loved in a world torn by social discords and military conflicts. Tension in many families unfortunately rises as Christmas approaches and even during the days of it. People who normally never spend time with each other stick together for several days, so all those irritating little habits become even more so. Imagine love smoothing them – Anything could happen!
Below are four reflections for you to ponder and pray with, if you so wish.
Thee, God, I come from, to Thee go,
... What I know of Thee I bless,
... Once I turned from thee and hid,
Bound on what thou hadst forbid;
Sow the wind I would; I sinned:
I repent of what I did.
G. M. Hopkins
Though a man
With the sins of a lifetime,
Let him but love me,
In utter devotion:
I see no sinner;
That man is holy.
Lord, today brings
Paths to discover
Possibilities to choose
People to encounter
Peace to posses
Promises to fulfil
Perplexities to ponder
Power to strengthen
Pointers to guide
Pardon to accept
Praises to sing
And a Presence to proclaim
No, I don’t want to give birth to God.
Yes, I am a good girl, so I nod.
No, I don’t want to be out in the cold.
Yes, I’ll follow him till I am old.
No, I don’t want to lodge in the hay.
Yes, I am so tired now, it is okay.
No, I don’t want to be alone in this.
Yes, I look forward to the bliss.
No, I don’t want a donkey assistant.
Yes, I give up being so resistant.
Yes, your point I can see.
Yes, I’m glad God looks like me.
Yes, thanks for making me see
The Child, but not yet the Tree.
Here you are now, safely arrived at Christmas and the destination of the journey. How was your pilgrimage? Happy, peaceful and blessed Christmastide.