Today, our journey through Advent begins. I hope it will be a rich and meaningful time for each person reading this.
This morning I unpacked our Advent wreath and adorned it with five new candles representing hope, peace, joy, love and, in the centre, the Christ candle. Each ready to be lit in turn as the journey through Advent continues.
First to be lit is the purple candle of hope. I think at this time, as the church begins the new liturgical year, hope is much needed. For many it has been a rough few months — a deadly virus, isolation, quarantine, political uncertainty, unemployment, fear, sickness, deaths of friends or family members. Yet hope abounds — hope for a vaccine and an end to the pandemic, hope for a more stable future, hope that all will ultimately be well. Hope is what keeps us going, maybe a bit like the star shining in the darkness, leading the magi onwards.
The lectionary reading paints a metaphorical picture of suffering and hardship (Mark 13: 24-37). A time full of darkness and catastrophe. Yet the text offers hope of better things to come. The passage uses the illustration of the fig tree offering the anticipation of summer after the cold (28).
Yet with the offer of hope in this extended metaphor, comes the message from the author of the Gospel to keep awake. Of course, this cannot be taken literally, human beings are created to need sleep for restoration and rejuvenation. But in those two words —keep awake — the author captures the meaning of Advent. Watching and Waiting.
Advent always encompasses the dual themes of waiting for the birth of the Christ child and watching in hope for the future. Often those two words representing Advent are the antithesis of what happens in reality. Watching and waiting have a quietness about them — a sense of peace yet with an increasing anticipation. Sadly, Advent is often consumed with busyness and a feeling of not having enough hours in the day to complete all the tasks that need doing in preparation for Christmas.
This year will be different. There can be no large in person gatherings, no pre-Christmas parties, no Christmas dinner with extended family and friends, no going to Christmas shows, no lingering in stores buying things that are not really needed, not even large Carol services crushed together with others’ celebrating.
Just maybe, this year, the enforced slowing down will help restore the season of Advent. Maybe this year’s pandemic restrictions will change some of our Advent busyness permanently. Maybe watching and waiting will take on a new, deeper meaning.
I hope so.