Chris McDonnell: The coming days of Advent

The days of Advent tell the story of a journey, well, two journeys really. The first journey, told in the books of the Old Testament, gives an historical account of the Hebrew people, of their trials and tribulations and of their seeking to follow the call of God. The second journey, much shorter in time span, from the moment of Annunciation through to a birth in Bethlehem is the fulfilment of their trust, though in an unexpected manner.

 The image of Visitation Mary meets Elizabeth, at the Church of the Visitation in the picturesque village of Ein Karem, some 7 km south-west of Jerusalem, shows two young women, both pregnant, face to face, greeting each other. It is a poignant image of a shared intimacy, two cousins, the mothers of Jesus and John.

 The image of journey is recurrent in religious experience, the translation from one place to another, from one way of life to another, from birth to death, from sorrow to joy. In earlier days, journeys involved risk, often great risk and so became symbols of the difficult times we experience day by day. In many ways the same applies today. We should still be risk-takers, willing to be adventurous in what we do, showing trust in each other and in the care of the good Lord.

 Advent, the Coming, is a time of deep mystery, a time of expectancy, a time of waiting. You may have heard of the ‘Advent group’, a support Group founded in England the 70s to support priests who left ministry to marry, and their wives. Their first gathering took place at Spode House in Staffordshire, managed then by the Dominicans whose community lived in Hawksyard Priory. It took place in early December, in the first days of the liturgical season of Advent. Looking for a name for the newly-formed gathering, they came up with the title of ‘the Advent Group’.  Not only was it appropriate to the Season, but it also matched the journey that these men and women were embarked on. After initial hostility from the some of the hierarchy, the Advent Group came to be recognised as a bona fide association whose intention was to fulfil a role within a caring Church.

 The words ‘see how these Christians love one another’ are often quoted as the defining nature of a follower of the Christ. They are well remembered when we find ourselves being critical of each other, forming opinions that are judgemental, that seek only to highlight differences rather than reinforce a community of love.

 In our secular society, the days of Advent are very often a confusion of utter mystery and commercial opportunism. We are encouraged to have the best-ever party food, enjoy every film imaginable and above all, spend on numerous presents- for what purpose?

 Each year in our parish during the First Mass of Christmas, we listen to the Proclamation of the Feast of the Nativity. It begins with these words.

 “To a people prepared, came the unrecognised Child, in his time, he came into our time and disturbed the peace. For each of us, half-people wandering in a lost world, peace comes with wholeness”.

 Expectation and reality were very different. The Christ-child, helpless and dependent, whose journey from Bethlehem would lead to Calvary and the garden of Resurrection, was not part of the story line. But each Advent we explore again the mystery revealed to us and live again Christ’s birth.

 Our Advent wreaths are set in churches to count off the weeks to Christmas, the growing light as first one, then two, three and four candles are lit, very often by young children in whose eyes we see the wonder and amazement as light from the taper passes to the candle and a new light glows.

 So in the bustle and hurry of these coming December days, take time to pause and reflect on why we do what we do, what it is all about. A few years ago, I remember hearing carols over the PA system of a shop towards the end of September, a little premature I venture to suggest, more to do with commercial gain than the reality of the Advent story.

Let’s finish these few words and begin the days of this Advent with four haikus.

 Advent -1-

Fog found December days

in chill expectation

of the Lord’s Advent

Advent -2-

Days of waiting

in anticipation of the birth

of him who comes

Advent -3-

Four flames shape my song

that this very earth must sing

fire in the desert

Advent – 4-

Touch again the stone

that your open hands wear smooth

each silent morning.


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