Magazine letter December 2021

Advent Sunday, Advent from the Latin meaning coming or arrival. As a season it is first heard of in the writing of Gregory of Tours at the end of the 5th century. In Gaul in the 6th century it is referred to as a penitential period of six weeks prior to Christmas, mirroring Lent. In Rome, however the period came accepted as four weeks and what Rome did the rest of the Catholic world soon followed. The point of Advent was to prepare for the coming of Christ – both his first coming at Bethlehem and also his second coming, date and time yet to be confirmed.

 

We have, I am sure, no problem with the first coming – and if we have, we can wait a few weeks to give them an airing!  No, it’s usually the second coming that is the hard one to swallow.  We are rightly suspicious these days of people claiming, ‘the end is nigh’; such claims in the past have been demonstrably overstated.

Just as Jesus’ first coming was unexpectedly banal (if we leave aside the angelic host for a moment), and his life and certainly his death were an enormous disappointment to those who thought they were in the know. So too his coming again may be in the perfectly ordinary, in what the unseeing would think totally banal – he may come again in something as simple as the taking of bread and wine, as ordinary as the meeting of two or three in his name. He may come in the faithful life of his people, the people which are his body and in which he is present to the world.

We are, as people of faith, encouraged to accept many notions of the wonders to come, either in heaven, or at a terrifying end time to be awaited, if not expected. We are sometimes less keen to see the importance of the time that is, the challenge and the wonder of the everyday. We look for God in extraordinary experiences, in the so-called miraculous, but we devalue the present.

Consider the commitment of care staff who give up days off to maintain cover in an understaffed nursing home; the paramedics who attend calls taking them into all kinds of situations to care for people in need; the charity workers who are prepared to risk their lives to feed the hungry overseas; the unsung people who daily care for the needs of spouses, parents, children, and even complete strangers. Why do we not see Jesus present in all of these people?

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

This is the coming that should fill our thoughts, and our prayers. This is where the second coming begins, like the Kingdom of God itself, in the hearts of ordinary people, in the close and sometimes frightening reality of the every day.

May you have a blessed Advent.

William

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