A new Liturgical Year begins, with the four weeks that culminate in the feast of Nativity, the days we call Advent.

 

The song of the colder days is sung in words of Waiting 

from one dark day to the next, each one closing a time 

of expectation, till finally Nativity is come. 

  

December dawns, spreading a chill, raw sky of washed out 

greens and faded blues, sunrise breaking the nothingness 

of night, early light beyond the immediate houses. 

Final year-end days, the hurrying crowds, the Sundays of Four Candles and the Coming Birth, the telling of wars and harsh anger caught in the cradle of conflict, till all time slips away. 

  

Our perception of the Season is largely coloured by the onset of Northern hemisphere Winter. So we can reflect for a moment that "Fog found December days in chill expectation of the Lord's Advent. Days of waiting in anticipation of the birth of Him who comes. Four flames shape my song that this very earth must sing - fire in the desert. Touch again the stones that your open hands wear smooth each silent morning."

 

Each Sunday in the Advent Season, a candle is lit in our Advent wreaths, one of the purple candles that surround the single white candle in their centre till, when all four are lit, the Feast is proclaimed with the lighting of the fifth candle. The wreath, placed on the floor of the sanctuary is a reminder of our journey. In the meantime we ask a question.

 

Child- Where have you come from?

Men from fields stood in silence.

Strangers.

Child - Where have you come from?

After journey time, a shared space.

Homeless.

Child - Where have you come from?

Promised from eternity arriving unnoticed.

In a stable

Child - Where have you come from?

          Where have you come from?

          Where have you come from?

 

It is a question that we must ask and attempt to answer each time the Season of Advent is upon us. 

 

Advent, the Coming, is a time of deep mystery, a time of expectancy, a time of waiting. You may have heard of the ‘Advent Group’, a support Group founded in 1969 to assist priests who left ministry to marry, and their wives. Their first gathering took place at Spode House in Staffordshire, managed then by the Dominicans whose Community lived nearby in Hawksyard Priory. It took place in early December, in the first days of the liturgical season of Advent. Looking for a name for the newly-formed gathering, they came up with the title of ‘the Advent Group’.  Not only was it appropriate to the Season, but it also matched the journey that these men and women were embarked on. After initial hostility from the some members of the hierarchy, the Advent Group came to be recognised as a bona-fide association whose intention was to fulfil a role within a caring Church. This year sees the 50th anniversary of its foundation. With many of its former members having now passed to the Lord and others in their older years, the group has largely out-lived its purpose. That in some ways is a sign that progress has been made and that circumstances are now very different within the Church. 

 

The story of that journey to Bethlehem is mirrored so often in our present day society. Stories of refugee families in transit, struggling to care for young children or newly born infants abound in News programmes. Those living on the streets of this country are a constant reminder of the poverty that exists in our own affluent society.

 

It is easy for these days to become cluttered with shopping, presents, cards and parties that are some distance from the real significance of the Season. It can become claustrophobic, so much to do and so little time in which to do it. 

 

As we greet the First Sunday in Advent this year, let us pause awhile and reflect on what it is really all about. We know little of the actual event that night in Bethlehem but enough to know it was an occasion of brilliant significance. The Child of the stable would grow to maturity, who died and rose again, a sign for his people, one who has been reverenced in the faith of Christians in subsequent centuries. 

 

There is a starkness in the story that can easily be lost under the tinsel and glitter of our modern age. When we decorate our trees, write our cards and wrap our presents, remember the hard journey undertaken by a young, heavily pregnant woman and her husband through the open hills of Palestine. 

 

May this Advent Season touch our heart and spirit, sustaining us on the journey that each of us has to make.

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