As Advent begins, let us imitate creation around us
through a season of stillness,
with sacred moments of quiet and peace
rather than endless shopping or “spiritual busyness”,
and may the Light which cannot be extinguished
always be our hope.
As a year and a decade draws to an end, the month of November has allowed us to recall our deceased loved ones, to mourn recent losses, recall those more distant losses and offer comfort to those who still grieve. It can feel like death is everywhere as the trees cast off the last of their leaves, the hedgerows become sparse and even the grass loses its colour. The void or loneliness which death, or remembrance, can evoke even seems to be reflected in the stark bare branches, the grey leaden skies, the long nights and a lingering quiet over the countryside.
My late father-in-law, Brian, was a man of the countryside all his life; the rhythm of his days for most of his life was dictated by the seasons and the tasks which they demanded or facilitated. It often appeared that he found this time of year difficult because his passion for the land was limited and restricted by the weather and the daylight. He found it challenging and even frustrating to be confined until the turn in the year and the chance to get outside and busy again, and always spoke of the “dark days of Christmas”. He found it difficult to wait.
On 1st December, Advent begins – a season of waiting. I suspect many of us will, like Brian, find the wait difficult. We may find it difficult because the meaning of the season gets battered to a pulp by the jangling Christmas music, blinding LED lights and persistent promises of enduring happiness if we purchase certain items or brands. We may find it difficult because Christmas is a lonely time and Advent only brings it closer. We may dread each day passing because of financial or relationship pressure which, like a runaway train on a downward slope, only seems to gather momentum the closer it gets to Christmas.
Still we are invited to wait – and to wait in hope.
It’s not always easy to find hope in a world of Brexit, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, political and religious extremism and increased secularism. It’s not the same thing as being patient – one of the most reviled things any parent can and does say to a child in the weeks preceding Christmas. Being patient often means simply enduring, gritting your teeth behind a pleasant smile, and trying not to be a pain in the neck, until your desired outcome materialises.
Hope is something quite different. Hope is the sun rising every morning and the realisation that, however bereft the countryside looks, life is flourishing under the layers of dead leaves and deep in the soil. Hope is the huge awakening globally to climate breakdown, and every choice someone makes to care more fully for creation. Hope is the care given to the unborn, the vulnerable, the fragile, the ill and the dying, with no expectation of anything in return. Hope is Elizabeth and Mary, waiting for new life with unknown consequences and outcomes but with faith and trust in the One who called them.
We are, in so many ways, the people walking in darkness as this Advent begins, not only because the days are short and dark. Globally, there is darkness in politics, economics, ecology, and the basic value placed on human dignity. Yet one of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas is a lighted candle in the window “to let the Holy Family know there was room in our inn”, small and modest as it was. Even as Advent itself ends, the days will have begun to get longer again; the light cannot be extinguished.
As we begin our Advent journey and our wait for the Light of the World, we can look to the countryside around us to teach us what it is to wait: to embrace the slower rhythm of creation, to rest our bodies and our spirits, to mourn the “dead leaves” in our lives, allowing them to fall and settle into one another, trusting they will become a source of enrichment for ourselves and others. We are invited to see it as an opportunity to nourish ourselves, letting go of the old and making way for the new, or opening ourselves to the possibility of renewal. As Advent begins, let us imitate creation around us through a season of stillness, with sacred moments of quiet and peace rather than endless shopping or “spiritual busyness”, and may the Light which cannot be extinguished always be our hope.