Advent means ‘coming’ in Latin. It’s a time in the Church year when we look for Jesus to come to us, not in one way, but in three. He comes as a baby, a reminder of events in the past; he comes in the Scriptures and other ways now; he will come at the end of time, the Second Coming in the future.
On Advent Sunday we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath and began our journey to Christmas together. The journey of course is not ended at Christmas, but has its destination as Easter. If Jesus had not been born he could not have died for us.
The readings at the 10.30pm SLT service on Saturday (the Pacific Rim service) were 1 Thessalonians 3:9-end, Luke 21:25-36. The reflection from the service is reproduced below.
The changing of the seasons is part of the way we mark the passage of time. Most people have some way of marking the changes in the year, whether it be the arrival of the rains, or the colour tingeing leaves orange and red, or small buds forming on branches, or lengthening days or birds beginning to nest. Nature provides many signs of the passage of time year by year.
Being in SL, we could probably find people from all over the world who could tell us how they mark the movement through each year by observing changes in nature. Each will look at something different according to their culture and each will probably have their favourite signs according to their own likes and dislikes.
Our Christian culture marks the passage of the year by following the story of Jesus. Our readings reflect the pattern and the colours in our churches also indicate where we are in the Liturgical Year. We are just on the way out of ‘Ordinary Time’ which began on 2nd June. It sounds a bit boring: nothing new or extra-ordinary. Just plain ordinary. However in that time we have learnt about saints and martyrs of the past, of missionaries and teachers, and we have read great portions of the Bible.
Now we are entering a time that is anything but ordinary, Advent. For those who are not Christians, and for many Christians too, this is a special time of rushing around preparing for Christmas. Everything is hurry and bustle with too much to do and too little time. We often bemoan the secularisation of Christmas but allow ourselves to be sucked into its commercial values nevertheless.
Advent shouldn’t be like this at all. It’s supposed to be a time of waiting and watching. This is what Joan Chittister has to say:
‘The liturgical year does not begin at the heart of the Christian enterprise. It does not immediately plunge us into the chaos of the Crucifixion or the giddy confusion of the Resurrection. Instead, the year opens with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.’
It seems that our normal way of living now is always to be looking to the next thing. Instead of appreciating where we are at a given moment, who we are with, what we can see and feel and hear, we are straining ahead, diary and tick list in hand, trying to cram ever more into overcrowded days. Credit cards tell us we can have what we want now, we can order our goods over the internet and have express delivery, we can eat faster pasta to save cooking time, and still it’s not enough. Still we need 36 hours in the day to do all we feel we need to do.
Waiting is not part of the way many of us want to live. In a more rural existence much of what goes on is paced by the way things grow, but the majority of us are distanced from that. The trouble is, we are the same kind of people even if we live bustling urban lives. Change in people can’t be hurried. We may buy the self-help books, watch the DVDs, get a life-coach, but real, deep, lasting change comes slowly, like the growth of a seed into a plant.
A friend of mine recently told me that she was working her way through a book on the Twelve Step Programme. Her ‘drug of choice’ as it’s called is perfectionism. It may not damage her body in the same way as heroin or vodka might do, but it takes its toll even so. She demonstrated just how much the hurry culture had affected her life, and I know she is not alone. She told me the book was really good and helpful. So far so good. Then she said, ‘I did what it said on Step 1, I listened to the podcast on the website, and then I thought “Ok, I’ve done that, what’s next?”’ She gave herself no time at all to ponder what she had read and heard. It was just another task to do, a formula for success, preferably instant success. She wanted to get Step 12 finished asap and meet the new her.
This is not what we are about as Christians in Advent. Advent means ‘coming’ in Latin. We are waiting for not one but three different comings, each related to a different time. First of all we are remembering the birth of Jesus as a baby. This is a nice story, one that is attractive to children and adults alike. It’s a cosy, sing carols, think of a warm clean stable, type of waiting. It doesn’t place many demands upon us as Christians, doesn’t challenge us very much. After all, how can a baby challenge us? It’s more a case of ‘Aww, how sweet!’ This might be a way in to the Christian faith but it’s not a good place to stay. It is the coming which is focused in the past.
The next coming is focused in the present and needs us to make some effort as we look for the presence of God in the ‘now’ of our lives. We can find God as we read the Scriptures, if we take the time to do so. This is why I really value the time spent saying the Morning and Evening Offices. I honestly doubt if I would read so much of the Bible without that discipline and yet so often the words I read speak to me. We can also find God in nature, in the beauty that surrounds us if we stop and notice. For those who go to RL church, they will meet God in the Eucharist. Perhaps here in SL, when we can’t celebrate sacraments together, we meet God in one another. The care and love and prayers of others speaks to us of God present with us. As the hymn ‘Brother, Sister let me serve you’ says: ‘Let me be as Christ to you’. Others are Christ to us and we are Christ to them.
Finally there is the coming in the future, the Second Coming. This is our great hope, that Jesus will return to rule the earth, to bring in the fullness of God’s kingdom. As Jesus promises in the passage we’ve heard from Luke: ‘Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.’ What a wonderful thought! Of course, it won’t do for those who want everything NOW.
A long time ago there used to be an advertisement for a credit card which said that it took ‘the waiting out of wanting’. That was supposed to be something good, but actually the waiting, the anticipation, can often be the best part. Much as a child might say that they can’t wait for something, much as they may love the treat they have been promised, there is also something of an anticlimax once all has been revealed.
There is plenty for us to ponder, plenty to work at, plenty to enjoy, as we wait for the coming of Jesus at whatever level our spiritual life is ready for it. My prayer for us all, as individuals and as a community as we enter Advent, is that of Paul: ‘May he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor