Ronan Scully of Self Help Africa
Advent is about to begin next Sunday and many of us are already preparing our homes and families to observe this season with much of our planning and preparations well under way. We know what we want to do and we know how we want to do it because we have a plan. Plans are all very good but without action, nothing happens and nothing gets done. Our Scripture Readings in Advent deal with preparing the way for the Lord.
The readings encourage us to repent and John the Baptist is preparing the way for the arrival of Jesus and there is a plan in place and it is actioned. During this past year, Covid has had another significant impact on all our lives. Our plans and resolutions for 2021 needed to change and adjust as we were in ‘lockdown’ and up to our belly in restrictions. As we near the end of 2021 and as we progress through this season of Advent, perhaps it is time to reflect on where we are.
Each of us can help others to love more. Just as John the Baptist promised that Jesus “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”, and I believe the Holy Spirit to be the Love which unites the Trinity, which “is” the Trinity. God’s love and mercy is available to all and perhaps we each need to show love and mercy for ourselves, to adopt some “me time” during Advent. There is nothing selfish about having "me time" for ourselves, loving the person that we are so that each of us can help other people to love more and do more good while we still have time. Perhaps it is time to be kind to the person that is me. Let each of us start by loving ourselves and then each of us can help other people to love more and as I said to do good while we all still have time.
As the commercial world about us readies itself for the Christmas season we are invited to take a step back and view the bigger picture and now perhaps more than ever before, in this time of the Coronavirus pandemic crisis, we are being called to stay awake, to stay watchful, to keep our eyes, our hearts and minds wide open and free to recognise the light of God’s presence shining within our own heart. If approached in a spirit of openness, Advent can be an opportunity to deepen our sense of God who walks alongside us on the journey of life. It is somewhat like a mini Lent before Christmas.
We are invited to set aside some extra time and space for prayer, reflection and good works. The restrictions in place because of the Coronavirus mean that we may not be in a position to gather as usual or go about the normal activities we are used to doing around the Christmas season. This situation challenges us to find new ways of reflecting on our faith and praying in our homes. Many of us are also wondering, how could we possibly enter into the celebration of Advent if we are paying attention to what is happening to our beautiful country and our world that we all live in? How do we celebrate or turn our thoughts and hearts towards Christmas when our hearts are broken by the fact that nearly 10,000 people, families and children are going to be homeless in our country this Christmas?
Then there is the direct provision and asylum/refugee crisis, climate change upheaval, the challenges of the Coronavirus, the Brexit worries and the craziness of our country and the world at the moment, where human life is worth nothing anymore and is so meaningless. These days, celebration can seem heartless and uncaring, if not outright impossible. But here’s the thing: we enter into Advent precisely because we are paying attention. It’s because everything hurts, that we prepare for Advent. It’s because we have stood in hospital rooms, mortuaries and grave sides, empty churches and quiet bedrooms, that we resolutely light our Advent candles. We don’t get to have hope without having grief and sadness. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with and hope to wait.
Awake and Keep Watch
Speaking of waiting, I was at my doctor's waiting room recently and as usual for me I was early so I had to wait in line with other patients. If you are like me, as soon as I enter a waiting room or line up in a queue for some meeting or event, I start to feel uncomfortable. There is something about the not-knowing how long you will be there for. And then there’s the uncertainty of what the doctor in my case or whoever it is, it could be a parents teacher waiting room at a school or a bank waiting area, you're waiting to see what they will say when you finally get in. I try to rehearse what I will say. I get impatient and keep looking at the surgery clock on the wall.
The silence is a deafening one; the cloud of stress and worry arising from a room or a line full of patients with loud sighs and various movements, and each dealing with their own worries and preoccupations, feeling restless and in-between. And then, when the call finally comes from the doctor to enter, I never feel prepared. It always feels like an unexpected and rude interruption, though it was what I was waiting for, all along. The season of Advent can be a bit like that as we wait in anticipation for Christmas and the coming of the Christ child. Occurring at the time of year when the earth moves towards the Winter Solstice, when the days are gradually shortening and a chill in the air replaces a soft breeze, Advent conjures up a time of twilight, expectancy and waiting. Trees bravely shed their beauty and stand stark and naked in the freezing cold. A crisp frost covers the ground. A sense of the impending winter is in the air.
We pause in silence and gather to remember and to prepare. Advent for many people is a time of waiting for the coming of the Lord, and many prayer services and liturgies provide us with beautiful experiences and reminders of the glory of the One who is to come. Daily we can take an Advent examination. Are there any feelings of discrimination toward race, sex, or religion? Is there a lingering resentment, an unforgiven injury living in our hearts? Do we look down upon others of lesser social standing or educational achievement? Are we generous with the gifts that have been given to us, seeing ourselves as their stewards and not their owners?
Are we reverent of others, their ideas and needs, and of creation? These and other questions become Advent lights by which we may search the deep, dark corners of our hearts. We wait for the coming of the Lord. We are encouraged to ‘Awake and keep watch!’ However we also need to awaken to the fact that the Lord is waiting for us. There is a sense in which we do not need to wait for God. God is always present in a myriad of ways, around us, among us, between us, within us. Do we not need to awaken to the wonder and mystery of this? For those who are awake and for those who see as Gerard Manley Hopkins used to say, can see ‘The earth is charged with the grandeur of God’.
Season of Hope
Also for a lot of us Life speeds up around this time of year although it will be a different type of Christmas this strange year. There are still Christmas decorations to be put up and gift shopping to be done and hopefully Christmas services and carol services to prepare and attend. It has the potential to be a season of manic hype and fun, but it also has the potential to be full of pressure and worrisome stress. There can be tensions and escalating fears, about our personal circumstances and the injustice and disparity in our own life, in our families, in our town, country and world every day.
Or the people walking in deep grief, homelessness, addiction, loneliness and those abandoned on the edges of our society at a time when we’re supposed to be really happy and excited about Christmas and the future. I think of the pressure people feel, to shop and buy a better existence, a happier family, a stronger relationship, a whole new identity. The pressure to buy things that represent a quality of life that can’t be bought. It is hard to see Advent as a Season of Hope when you are suffering from an incurable illness, the worries of the Coronavirus, mental health difficulties, homelessness, being a refugee, living in Direct provision, suffering from addiction, unemployed and abandoned on the edges of society.
But Advent is a season of Hope and we must make it so for our people in need in our country. It is a season full of anticipation and hope. In my family growing up we always kept an Advent wreath whose four burning candles reminded us of the spirit of the season and served to build anticipation for the coming joy of the Christmas celebration. Just the other day I was powerfully reminded of the symbolic importance of the Advent wreath through a beautiful allegory a close friend shared with me. It goes like this: "For me this is an important reminder that hope is an integral part of our Christian faith. The reality of Christ’s birth reminds us that God has a plan to conquer the pain, sufferings and misfortunes of humanity’s existence. That plan consists of the birth of the Christ child in a manger over 2,000 years ago. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the “ultimate hope” let us reflect on our own abundance or dearth of this vital virtue. Is our “Hope” candle still burning bright? If so, you may be surprised at how many other candles you can light, and how many lives you can touch."
Thought for the week
As your thought for the week, please remember that Advent matters, because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open even in the midst of our grief and longing. The weary world is still waiting in so many ways, in so many hearts, in so many places, for the fullness of Our Lord and his kingdom to come. Advent reminds us that God seeks us out where we are right now. Not where we should be by our own or anyone else’s estimation.
So please be mindful of the people and children in need around you, especially our elderly and those who find themselves through no fault of their own in need and lovingly try to help out as much as possible with your time and with some of your 'good things' if you can afford too. Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way.
Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place. Let's try to make our homes and our world places of love, peace and care for all our people, especially our children and for those who might feel marginalized and alone and afraid. A prayer I say during Advent time for everyone in need of a prayer of Hope especially for our loved ones that are sick, unwell, homeless, abandoned and in need of our actions of love and caring goes as follows - "Emmanuel, Our world waits in darkness longing for Your light. In the midst of darkness, en-kindle our hope. As we long for lasting peace in the midst of war, Be with us. As we long for families to be reunited, Be with us. As we long for homeless and abandoned people in our communities to be cared for, Be with us. As we long for enemies to be reconciled, Be with us. As we long for cures and healing especially from the Coronavirus, Be with us. As we long for decent jobs and decent homes and shelter and economic security, Be with us. As we long for love and community, Be with us. Fulfill the deepest longings of your people and Dispel the darkness in our hearts and in our world. Let your Word ignite the Hope the world needs to bring your life, love and justice. May this Advent season be a time for bringing hope, transformation and fulfillment into the real living of our lives. Amen."
I encourage you this season of Advent to make yourself a little sacred space, a holy place you have set aside for prayer, meditation, and worship. A place for daily devotion and rest. A place that draws your heart like a little child into the stillness and the wonder of Advent. God bless you and keep you safe always!
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