The readings we hear in Advent are among the most beautiful and evocative of the whole year.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”
“But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire….”
“Now it is time to awake out of sleep: now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.”
“The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”
“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The season begins at the end, as Jesus, just before his death, sets the tone of expectancy: “what I say to you, I say to all: keep awake!” Then there are two Sundays introducing John the Baptist – his identity (“the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord….’”) and his urgent message. Then we spend a Sunday with Mary (“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”). Taken as a whole, the readings of Advent knock us a bit off balance, suggesting the incompleteness of our lives and our longing for something more. Finally, we come in out of the darkness and cold on Christmas Eve and claim success (“the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”).
But wait a minute. Do we really believe that God will do something on December 25th, 2015 that is different from what God was doing on December 23rd? Or are we supposed to pretend that Jesus wasn’t born 2,000 years ago so that we can pretend that something new will happen now? Just what are we waiting for in this season of Advent, 2015?
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, touches on this in an Advent video on his web site:
“We remember in Advent the time of waiting before the birth of Jesus, and we remember that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us as a time when people were indeed longing for something that would change everything, and yet at the same time not quite knowing what that something would be…..
“So during this four weeks before Christmas, that’s what Christians are reflecting on. When Jesus comes into the life of the world with something unplanned, overwhelming, something that makes a colossal difference, we long for it and yet we don’t quite know what it’s going to involve. But this is a bit odd isn’t it, you might say. Surely Jesus has come into the world and by now we ought to know what sort of difference he’s made?
“But the truth is that we don’t yet know the difference Jesus might make. We know some of the difference he’s made to our lives as individuals, to the life of the Christian community, the Church, to the whole world. And yet there’s more. We’re still waiting to see what might happen if Jesus were allowed into our lives that bit more fully; that bit more radically.”
So, yes, God is doing something unique and new right now, because you are unique and I am unique and God is acting in each of us, waiting to see what will happen. The trappings of the season (the readings, the music, special prayers, and all the rest) are there to help us “keep awake” to God at work in us so that we can re-launch the adventure of discovering “what might happen if Jesus were allowed into our lives that bit more fully”.
In a way, it’s like coming to church on Sunday morning. We don’t really believe God is “more present” inside the doors of St. Martin’s than anywhere else, but the special way we do things in church can help us recognize God here more easily than, say, in the produce department of the grocery store. Then we can take that awareness of God a little more fully with us next time, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of Christmas retail.
Or maybe it’s more complicated than that; in any case, it all begins with paying attention. If you’re looking for on-line resources to help, have a look here:
I also recommend the whole of the Archbishop’s video, which is 10 minutes long. You can find it at:
The season of anticipation is under way. Please join us!