“Look towards Christmas!
Advent is here!”
So begins Shirley Murray’s Advent Carol. And she is right. Sunday is the First Sunday in the Season of Advent. It tells us, this year, that we are four weeks away from Christmas Day.
But Advent is more than that. The word “advent” itself means “coming” or “moving towards”. It is a time for remembering and re-thinking and responding. Remembering the stories that tell of the birth of Jesus and the world into which he came: A dark world of Roman occupation and hard life. Stories of angels (the word means messenger) bringing “Good News”; of startled shepherds hearing that life was about to change; of ancient wise people searching for meaning and finding it in the birth of a baby. The stories provided people with the opportunity to change the way they thought about life, themselves, their neighbor, the world, and their God. It also meant they found the freedom to respond to all these in a different way. The old word “repentance” means to change the way we look at and respond to the world around us – to see them all through the eyes of love and respond lovingly.
Over the centuries, the Church has developed many ways of celebrating Advent. One way was the use of colour. In earlier times the liturgical colour for Advent was rose pink – the colour of the new dawn. Later, as the Church shifted it’s focus to sin – the penitential colour of purple was used. Maybe it’s time we re-thought the colours we want to use for the seasons of the Christian Year. Music has played an important part in helping us celebrate Advent and Christmas – and it is good that modern hymn writers like Shirley Murray and Colin Gibson not only help us to celebrate Advent but also help us to rethink what the season means for us. Light has been an important contribution in reminding us of the power of light to overcome darkness – and that the baby born in Bethlehem became known as “The Light of the World”.
One of the “moods” of Advent is the deep longing for life to be different. For many people today, that is their hope. That something will happen to bring about change and usher in a kindlier, warmer, and more loving world.
This hope has been expressed in terms of “The Second Coming of Jesus” sometime in the future. Jesus will return and make all things right.
So, it seems, we get locked into past or future. But what about the present? It seems that the concept of Jesus being present in the life of the community of his followers gets forgotten. Or, just as important, that Jesus comes to us in the people we meet and the people we read about in our newspapers and see on our television screens. And in those experiences we are challenged to do two things. First, to remember that as members of a faith community we are part of the Body of Christ and our responses have to be in line with the life-giving, compassionate life that Jesus lived. And the second is to nurture the ability to see him in the life of others.
It seems like an enormous task! IT IS! But we can take hold of a piece of it and act with compassion and generosity towards whatever opportunities present themselves to us. The word “opportunity” means “that which lies at our doorstep” – so we don’t have to look too far.
As we travel towards Christmas and a New Year let’s be more aware of the “opportunities” to bring about the changes that will make a difference in the world in which we live. It is also important that we get Jesus out of the manger and remember that he grew to be the man who called others to join him in bring hope and healing, joy and peace to a tired world.
I end with a famous passage from the writings of Albert Schweitzer:
He comes to us as One unknown,
without a name,
as of old, by the lakeside,
He came to those who knew Him not.
He speaks to us the same words:
“Follow thou me!”
and sets us to the tasks which
He has to fulfill for our time.
And to those who obey Him,
whether they be wise or simple,
He will reveal himself in the toils,
the conflicts, the sufferings
which they shall pass through in His fellowship,
and, as an ineffable mystery,
they shall learn in their own experience
Who He is.”
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