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02/12/2012

1st Sunday of Advent

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. I spent my morning at Meeting for Worship with Cheadle Hulme Quakers, as I now spend most Sunday mornings. It was a deeply moving meeting, one in which the silence was deep and nourishing - and the ministry both challenging and enriching.

It feels too early to order and express my full thoughts on Advent and Christmas. There are all sorts of questions and issues around this period in the traditional Christian calendar, for Christians and for wider society. And as I move further into fellowship with the Quakers, there is even a thought that I should perhaps even reject any special religious meaning for this time of year - although that was not the sentiment of others at Cheadle Hulme Meeting House, which today lit an Advent wreath and made plans for a carol service in two weeks time.

Anyway, I received an email this week from Free to Believe and it contained the following poem:

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

-- Rowan Williams

This has touched me but I cannot put fully into words why. It coincides with a passage in the Bible, which I came across in Luke 1 - 2 whilst settling down during the first part of this morning's meeting. The passage says:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

It is interesting to note that an article by John Shelby Spong was also attached to the email, 'debunking' the concept of the Virgin Birth. In the past this would have been the focus on my attention, but it passed me by. Not because I don't agree with Spong, I just feel it's not necessary for me personally at the moment to be engaged in this kind of theological wrangling.

As I sat in contemplative prayer / meditations, the thought of Jesus as a Light of the World rolled around in my mind along with unanswered questions of what it was about him that continues to grasp our intuition and imagination -  and then, from ministry, a hint of Jesus as 'Immanuel' - the clear sure sign of 'God with Us', of our unity with God. Yet from there, a Friend also rose to speak of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, a symbol of the pain of existence, of our brokenness and loss, the source of much grief and grievance.

Two different yet interwoven images of Comforter and Confronter. 

Then, from there, it struck me that this great set of ideals we find in Jesus of Nazareth - regardless of what we really do know about him and what we really don't - acts as a mirror. We are this. Both light and darkness. But sometimes through the glass we can only see gloom.

And perhaps if we strip down Advent, a period not just coincidentally situated in the darkest season of the European-rooted Christian calendar, it should be just this - a time to actively rededicate ourselves to revealing the light amidst the darkness, to re-affirming unity with God and one another, a time to see past our troubles collected over the year.

And these are not just noble words.

The Quaker ministry given today, as practically-minded as it so often is, advised we can do this through making time with others - spending it in simple joy, through acts of goodwill towards those less fortunate, through helping others distract from their sadness - that this month really is in many ways no different from how the Christian's pattern of life should always be, one defined by kindness. But because we so often fail to live up to this, we perhaps need a month to really spend time practising getting it right.

1 comment:

plaidshoes said...

This really resonated with me. I often struggle to bring meaning to Advent and find this to be an inspiring way to live it.