The Eve of Advent - 27th November 2021
We find ourselves once more at the eve of Advent Sunday, the start of a new liturgical year. And I return to stand once more with the prophet Anna in the temple, as we did this time last year. I was very struck by the picture that Stephen Cottrell(1) painted of Anna observing the movements of the sun and placing herself where the light would fall on her as it shone into the temple. I find it a wonderful image of our vocation! We have come to this community seeking God, seeking the light. We place ourselves where we know that light will shine upon us. And that light is the light of Christ, incarnate in a person named Jesus whose birth we will celebrate in a few short weeks.
This season of Advent is a time when the days continue to shorten, the physical darkness deepens. It turns us inward as we wait for the season to turn and for the days to lengthen once more. It is of course no coincidence that the time of greatest darkness, when pagans would celebrate the hope of returning light, has become the feast of the Incarnation. The weeks leading up to Christmas have become a time when we hear of humanities’ hopes and fears, as expressed through the people of Israel. We hope for a better world where light will overcome the darkness around us.
This season is an invitation for us to prepare the way for the coming of the light – it is a hope for the life beyond this life yet also something already realised. We need to be cleaning the windows of our hearts and throwing out the clutter to clear the way to receive that light here and now. Our shared life of prayer in this place provides us with a container that holds and focusses the light, a light that reveals to us the love of God.
It is not easy to open to the light – it can reveal things about ourselves or about the world that we do not wish to see. We see our own brokenness and inadequacy and we see the suffering of the world. But as we allow the love of God to take us beyond our fears and our failures we can begin to see things in the light of Christ. We see all that exists as beautiful and greatly loved by God, even when it seems twisted and broken. Maybe most importantly we need to see ourselves, each one of us, as beautiful and loved, as precious creatures held in God’s hands. Of course we know we fall short of that perfect love to which God calls us yet in God’s mercy we can be transformed bit by bit into flaming beacons of light, people who bring more of God’s love into the world. Our work is to tend that flame of love in our hearts so that together we become a blazing fire that dispels the darkness.
Then through our unity with Christians throughout the world, and indeed through our shared humanity beyond race and religion, the love that is focussed here flows out into the places of brokenness, war and destruction. As we open our eyes to the suffering of the world and our hearts to the love of God in a mysterious way suffering is transformed and can be more easily borne. We pray for those who suffer but also for those intent on violence, destruction or exploitation of others. We pray that the love of God will touch them and change their hearts to a new course. Gradually God’s kingdom will come amongst us.
Our time of retreat in this week ahead is an opportunity to start clearing the way for the coming of the light, to take the time to reflect on these past months, to let go what needs to be let go and to give thanks for those blessings that have come our way. As we journey towards Christmas, let us cherish the silence and not be distracted by the busyness that can consume us as we approach the feast. Let us open our hearts to the ever-new coming of the light of Christ – I wonder what new things this will reveal to us this year?
(1) Stephen Cottrell, 'Walking Backwards to Christmas', SPCK Publishing, 2013
Mother Anne - 27th November 2021