Waiting. Space. Attentiveness. Advent can be a time of great ambivalence for us. We know there is merit in being fully present in the season and taking stock. Yet we find ourselves lurching to what lies ahead – the celebration and the sparkle!
But Advent is a wake up call. It may feel abrupt as it calls our attention back to spiritual disciplines in the midst of all our festive busyness. It reminds us of the issues of life we’d much rather cover up: death, judgement, heaven and hell – realities that we have to come to terms with. It reminds us of our own mortality, but it also sheds light on the darkness that we have become accustomed to; it speaks reassurance that death will not always be standing close hovering over us, nor will suffering always be the main protagonist in the human story. Advent speaks of expectation, Immanuel – God with us, a different vision for humanity.
Advent falls at the darkest time of the year, and as we reflect on 2019 we have seen global political and economic darkness: the exposure of a steady rise of human trafficking and abuse cases, and the stark realities of Christian persecution. Brexit negotiations have highlighted the political shadows in our day, and the compromise and expediency of Truth. Yet, we are called to ‘carry the light-giving message into the night’ ready for when Christ returns. Punctuated light in places of deepest darkness has the greatest impact. One example of this was highlighted through the courage of Greta Thunberg as she called us out to respond to climate change, ‘to unite behind the science and to act on the science’ – to respond to the realities of the world.
And yet there is a deeper reality to acknowledge and another voice to listen to, in the midst of the myriad voices of the media. ‘A voice cries out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord’.
In Isaiah 28 (The Message Version) we read: “Now listen to God’s message you scoffers… You say, ‘we’ve taken out good life insurance. We’ve hedged all our bets, covered all our bases. No disaster can touch us. We’ve thought of everything. We’re advised by the experts. We’re set”. But God has something to say this. “I’ll make justice the plumb line for the building. A hailstorm will knock down the shantytown of lies, and a flash flood will wash out the rubble. Then you’ll see that your life insurance policy wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Your careful precautions against death were a pack of illusions and lies”.
With every candle we light this Advent we need to pray – to pledge to punctuate the darkness in the way we live. To bring more truth into our conversations and work places and to come out of the shadows of compromise and excuses. The waiting of Advent serves to wake us up from sleep walking; it’s our wake up call to be attentive, watching and waiting, for the One who is The Way, The Truth, The Life.
Revd Chantal Mason