Advent: Old English, from Latin adventus ‘arrival’, from advenire, from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come
There is great excitement around Melbourne as our city gradually unlocks the doors of cafes, restaurants, and cinemas. There is a sense of joy as once silent instruments are played again and as pent up competitive juices flow on sports fields. And in the city and suburbs our churches will open their doors again just as the church celebrates the beginning of a new liturgical year with Advent. This is the season of what is to come.
There has been no other year like this one to test our ability to long for what is to come. We have longed for freedom, for a vaccine, for connection, for hugs, for family gatherings, for holidays, for certainty, for zoom-less contact, for arrivals of parcels, for reunions with those we love, for it all to be over. We have longed for things in ways and manners that we did not know.
And now our longing turns explicitly to Christ. In the weeks of Advent that unfold before us we will call out to Christ to come, “render the heavens and come down” Isaiah will voice for us (Isaiah 64:1). We will sing and pray and plea for peace, for comfort, for new beginnings, for rebirth, for healing, for letting go, for breaking through to new understandings, for the gift of new insights birthed from ancient wisdom. Christ.
We symbolise our longing with the Advent candles. This first week we begin with a solitary candle. In humility we approach the darkness of our longing and light a candle. And we are invited to stop and think of the darkness to which we hope that light will come.
There is the darkness of human misunderstanding, prejudice, fear, envy and mistrust that lead to violence, war, death, terror and torture. To that we pray, come Lord Jesus.
There is the darkness and shadow over the globe as the Coronavirus pandemic uncovers the injustices that are compounded by pandemic. To that we pray, come Lord Jesus.
There is the darkness in our own lives for the shame and disappointment we harbour over our lack of charity, our selfishness, our less than generous thoughts and actions, the secrets of our hearts and souls. To that we pray, come Lord Jesus.
There is the darkness of poverty and the waste about which we know so much and yet feel so distant. To that we pray, come Lord Jesus.
There is the darkness of the doubt in the very existence of God or any transcendence beyond human might and reason. To that we pray, come Lord Jesus.
And in the midst of this darkness we begin our year by lighting a candle: a flame, a flicker and sign of hope; a reminder that as we begin our year we will find God again, as always, as a flicker of hope in the darkness.
As we pass through this Advent we will return and continue to light more candles in the darkness. We will keep vigil in the darkness for four weeks until we celebrate our first major feast for the year in the birth of Christ – the light of the world born into the darkness of a stable.
We can be so tempted to turn our heads away and avoid looking into the darkness. The problem is that in turning our gaze too quickly from the darkness we may miss the flickering light of a kindling flame. We might miss Christ coming again. Instead we are called to stay awake and face that darkness of our longing with candle in hand. And as we start another year let us take confidence in the words of St Paul who first wrote these words of encouragement to the community at Corinth.
I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways…the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.