Advent or Dislodging a Green Nut: Whitterings, January 2006

“Dislodging a green nut from a shell is almost impossible, but let it dry and the lightest tap will do it.”

By the time you read this it will be the Season of Epiphany, the season of the ever brightening revelation of Christ’s truth as the sun sheds ever increasing light upon our northern land as each day goes by. However, I write this in Advent as the days get shorter, and linger and die as the surrounding gloom gathers. We move down into the darkness towards the Nativity, the longest night of the year (I know it is not technically the longest night any more because of the change in the calendar but that rather spoils the symbolic effect so I simply ignore it!).

I understand Advent instinctively. Waiting and hoping is second nature to me. Often it seems as if my entire life and ministry is nothing more than waiting and hoping. I wait and hope for: the people of the world to seek the good of humanity over their own selfish desires; people to seek to love and serve one another; the poor and needy of the world to receive comfort and hope; the despots and dictators to be overthrown by the people and for justice to prevail; the nations of the world to seek truth and beauty above power and money; people to seek to understand the Truth and live their lives in harmony with it; people to be kind to one another.

Personally I often wait and hope; that I will read just the right book and my accumulated education will spill over the top of the cup of my knowledge into true understanding of life and God’s universe; that one day in my prayers or meditation I will hear the Voice of God or feel His Presence; that my mind and heart will merge back into being with my Creator; that I will find people with whom I can share parts of my life or at the least travel with; that one day I will not long to escape so much; that I will suddenly just relax into my life and stop worrying all the time; that the overwhelming desire for a cigarette will not keep giving me panic attacks and keep me up at night; that one day I will be in the right place at the right time and will be able to witness to Christ Crucified and Risen and know I have fulfilled the purpose of my life; that I may have some sort of a family and not be alone; that it will all become easier; that life will become clearer and less hectic and more peaceful; that what has been lost will be returned, including love, vulnerability and innocence; that I may one day wake to find the door of my cage open and myself free; that God will reveal Himself and come again. The Prophet Isaiah, whom we read all throughout Advent, speaks what is already in my heart. Advent gives permission to let my imagination run away with me. I can imagine as the U2 song says “the Kingdom Come when all the colours shall bleed into one”. Through the imagination combined with hope, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught us, the heart and mind and soul can reach towards God.

I have begun to understand that the waiting on the Lord implicit in the season of Advent is its own goal. It is not what we are waiting for that strengthens and purifies us, it is the waiting and the hoping itself. It keeps the heart open and the mind seeking. The waiting and hoping brings a certain kind of peace and contentment in and of itself. The imagination allows the heart to dream and search and wait with expectation. With hope I believe that one day this waiting will be over. The end shall come. The possibility of Salvation is real. At the end He will draw us back to Himself and the desire of St Augustine will be made real as our restless hearts will rest in Him once again. The Scottish Prayer Book includes Henry Cardinal Newman’s lovely prayer of longing for rest in the service of Compline.

“O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, and the evening cometh, and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

My cynical mind believes that most of the things I long for either do not exist or are improbable to happen to me or come to me. Not only that, but the things that one waits for and receives, in my limited experience, seldom live up to their promise. Perhaps what I mean is that I have always found that the thing I thought I was hoping for or waiting for wasn’t really what I desired. Or to put it in yet another way, I do not believe I am truly ready for Christmas because I do not yet have the eyes to see Him. I still wait in Advent because I am still discerning the Incarnation around me. The waiting and the hoping are what I faith will clear my vision and reveal the God with us, Emmanuel. Just as there can be no Easter without Good Friday, no Resurrection without Crucifixion, so also there can be no true Nativity without true Advent. Advent exists whenever the heart longs and hopes and prepares for God. Christmas exists whenever we perceive God Incarnate in his world and in his creatures. So we wait, not just in Advent, but constantly so that we may with patience and perseverance respond to the words of the Baptist and ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ in our hearts so that God may be revealed in the world and people around us.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
Has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
Wakes chocking on the mould,
The soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
Opens on mist, to find itself
Arrested in the net
Of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
And penny-masks its eye to yield
The star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
Will come like crying in the night,
Like blood, like breathing,
As the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
From: ‘The Poems of Rowan Williams’, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,
Cambridge UK, 2002