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A reflection for ADVENT from Angie Foster, Ordinand in Walmsley Parish
We have arrived at the season of Advent, which starts on Sunday 3rd December. This year Advent is short, because the fourth Sunday of Advent is Christmas Eve. Advent marks the beginning of the church year. It is a time for reflection in darkness, for renewal of hope and for a movement towards a beginning.
The season of Advent, as it first emerged in the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, lasted, like Lent, for 40 days. Later tradition developed the Advent we know today, of four Sundays before Christmas Day.
It is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ. Church decorations are simple and sparse, and purple is the traditional colour used. Advent falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas.
In Mark 13:33–35, Jesus tells his disciples, “Be awake. Be alert.… You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning.”
I would like to share some thoughts with you, attributable to Richard Rohr, from the Centre of Action and Contemplation: Most of us probably hear such a passage as if it were threatening or punitive, as if Jesus is saying, “You’d better do it right, or I’m going to get you.” But Jesus is not talking about a judgment. He’s not threatening us or talking about death. He’s talking about the forever coming of Christ, the eternal coming of Christ … Now!
Christ is always coming; God is always present. It’s we who are not! Jesus tells us to always be ready, to be awake, to be fully conscious and expectant. It’s the key to all spirituality, because usually we are not. Most of us just repeat the same routines every day, and we’re upset if there are any interruptions to our patterns. Yet God is invariably and ironically found in the interruptions, the discontinuities, the exceptions, the surprises—and seldom in the patterns. God has to catch us literally “off guard”!
When we are present, we will know the Presence. It is that simple and that hard.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the last words Jesus spoke to his apostles were, “Stay awake.” In fact, he says it twice (see Matthew 26:38–41).
Staying awake comes not from willpower but from a wholehearted surrender to the moment as it is. If we can be present, we will experience what most of us mean by God, and we do not even need to call it God. It’s largely a matter of letting go of resistance to what the moment offers or to quit clinging to a past moment. It is an acceptance of the full reality of what is right here and now. It will be the task of our whole lives.
We cannot get there by any method whatsoever; we can only be there. The purest form of spirituality is to find God in what is right in front of us—the ability to accept what the French Jesuit and mystic Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675–1751) called the sacrament of the present moment.”
I hope these words will stay with you through the busy season of Advent, when it is so easy to forget to be still and to be present, to hear and listen to the still, small voice of God. If we are alert and stay awake, we will live in the light and shine God’s light in a dark world that is waiting for the good news of Christmas.
Prayer for Advent:
Lord Jesus, Light of light, you have come among us.
Help us who live by your light to shine as lights in your world.
Glory to God in the highest.