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We tend to rush to Bethlehem. Each year the displays of Christmas cards, gifts and decorations in our shop windows seem to appear earlier than ever before; yet the importance of Advent - the very special time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, which has its own distinct richness and depth - is easily overlooked or forgotten.
During the four weeks of Advent we shall be exploring some of the central themes of this important season of the Church's year: Waiting; Watching; Hoping; Trusting. We shall be reflecting on these topics at our Choral Eucharist on each of the four Sundays of Advent, which will be complemented by our usual round of special services and musical events at 6.30 pm on those evenings.
What follows is a short introduction, or trailer, to each of these important themes:
'Wait for the Lord, whose day is near
Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart'
The Taizé Community
In a world in which 'instant results' are universally prized as desirable, and the need to wait for anything at all is invariably regarded as an unwarranted and unnecessary inconvenience, we can lose sight of the fact that the ability to wait patiently, and hopefully, can be a great gift. Learning to wait creatively can grant us the opportunity to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others; to reflect on the true nature of our needs and our desires; and to prepare ourselves to receive the wonderful gifts of God that await us.
Watch ye therefore (for you know not when the lord of the house cometh,
at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning):
Watch therefore, lest coming on a sudden, he find you sleeping.
And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.
'As the watchmen look for the morning, so do we look for thee, O Christ'
from the Office of Compline, or Night Prayer
We must learn to wait patiently, but also with an awareness of what it is that we are waiting for, so that we can recognize it when we see it. This can be easier said than done, because often our attitudes and assumptions and the baggage we carry from the past can affect the way in which we perceive the world, and distort our vision. Learning to see clearly entails the shedding of those things that impede our view.
'I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing...'
Advent is a time when we look to the future coming of Christ with hope in our hearts - and yet, as Eliot's famous words remind us, hope can come in different guises, and not all of its manifestations are good ones. False hope, which is little more than delusional, and can amount to a basic denial of the truth of our human situation, is particularly dangerous. By contrast, true hope is rooted in that very reality - which is why when we speak of hope in relation to Christ, we can do so with confidence.
... No love that in a family dwells
No caroling in frosty air
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this simple truth compare:
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
What does it mean to have trust in God - particularly when it is not always clear that God is hearing us, or answering our prayers? What does the Christmas story have to teach us about the ways of God, which can enable us to live with that trust? The Christmas story describes a moment when the heavenly and earthly realms collide, and the ways of God become manifest to us, enabling us to know why it is that we can trust the God whom we can call our Father.