Advent

 

Advent, by any contemporary experience, is a time of head-long rush. It is the sense of

running down the hillside towards one’s destination, with all too little time to wonder if

one has pressed everything necessary into one’s back-pack. The chief consolation is that

one does it in ample company, with, for example, someone hurtling down the hill beside

you, waving a calendar with chocolates inside.

 

Yet the season of Advent (and it is useful to think of it boundaried as a season) is not

chiefly structured for this adrenalin-rush of modernity. The word itself comes from the

Latin adventus – a coming, an arrival, usually an important one. Thus we are not talking

about the arrival of a package from Amazon. We mean the arrival of an important person,

(long signalled), someone in whose train we find all the trappings of importance, power,

and influence. Someone who changes thing, makes things happen, brings excitement, and

through whom the colours of life seem brighter, richer. The arrival of a local ruler in the

Greek east of the ancient world or even of the emperor from Rome brought about both an

enormity of preparation in the place visited and the hope of munificence from the visitor.

That was an adventus, or to use the Greek, parousia. It is said that the Queen has never

visited anywhere that hasn’t smelt strongly of fresh paint.

 

And so we have our word and season of Advent. As such it was well established in the

Church by the 7th century and in the West is the period of four weeks prior to Christmas.

It is a gathering time, a reflective time, a penitential season. It is a season that lends itself

to its physical environment: short days and lengthening nights, to bare trees, to dormant

earth and chill air. For most of the Christian world in which the season developed, there

would be little or no harvest. Activity did not cease, but it did slow down and move in

doors. For those in towns it was a time of wood smoke, fog and coal. Some of you

Londoners may even remember the whiff of Coalite on the air.

 

This gathering in, this slowing down, this moving past the time of harvest and of

remembrance was given over to the preparation of early winter: accounts, salting,

mending but also to the Church reflecting on the four last things: death, judgement,

heaven, and hell. More latterly, the focus of Advent has been on the arc of salvation,

leaping week by week through our readings an edited history of faith like a mystery cycle:

the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. At each step

getting closer and closer to one for whom we make preparation. The one for whom we

wait.

 

What is the manner of this waiting? It is not the waiting of a hiatus, not the sort of

waiting of a delayed appointment or of a cancelled train, but an eager longing, a

suppressed energy. It is something you want, even if you cannot fully comprehend the

implications of fulfilment. And you have to wait. It cannot be hurried. Like the birth of a

child, it cannot be hurried. Remembering and this sort of active waiting are good mental

habits.

 

Of course, what we are awaiting is the birth of Jesus at Christmas. And we do that via the

patriarchs, prophets, John the Baptist and the story of Mary. We do it by examining who

we are and where we are and what we do and we may do this in their company. It is this

that the frenzy, the shopping, the social round, the third quarter accounts threaten to

occlude. Jesus’ birth in his ancestral home, not his habitual home, because of a far-off

bureaucratic decision prompting numerous mundane decisions around the Roman Empire

to comply, sees glory unveiled in the very stuff of normality. But Advent is not only about

waiting for Jesus to come in vulnerability as an infant at Christmas. It is also about the

ongoing expectation for Jesus to come again in great glory as king and judge. The new

creation beginning with the resurrection awaits its fulfilment. The renewal of heaven and

earth is at hand and all things must be put to rights. Advent is a double expectation (some

say, triple – for Jesus in our hearts). For there will be a second advent. And we are to be

witnesses by preparing for both.

 

‘Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now

when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your

redemption is drawing near.’ (Luke 21:27-28)

 

For those of you who like to leaven your preparation with reading, there is a book to help

one through Advent by Paula Gooder, The Meaning in the Waiting (2008) published by

Canterbury Press and which you may find useful.

 

Peter Haddock

Advent 2018

Advent

Service times

Sunday

8:30am Holy Communion (BCP)
10:15am Sung Eucharist

2nd Sunday of the month

10:15am Family Service