FROM THE BOUNDARY
I love the Advent season – going to Harrisons and Cave Shepherd to mooch for Christmas presents for my wife and kids, and then sneaking them home and hiding them away. Oh, I know people knock all the commercialism. But it’s only once a year, and it gives people jobs and makes the kids happy. Besides, don’t we grow weary as the years roll on? For twenty centuries the Sermon on the Mount has been there for us and we’ve made what of it? No wonder we grow weary with so much sorrow in the world. Yet with Advent we know that the voice of God can never be silenced and, though there’ll be shadows around the cave at Bethlehem, we know too that the darkness will ever give way to light. Dear blessed Advent.
It’s a bit like the anticipation of a first date with a pretty girl (or fella), with someone we really like, the sort of girl who may be, just may be, the SHE we’ve always dreamed of. Do you know what I mean? Do you remember the thrill of expectation, the dizzy hope that she’ll want a relationship with us, that she’ll somehow touch and affirm us into life – we who deep down are such very lonely people.
Her mystery is part of her power. Yet we can’t know whether she’ll liberate us from being our old dull selves, whether our two hearts will ever beat as one.
And we must be cautious too that the whole thing isn’t just an illusion, cautious that we don’t turn her into an idol made in our image. We can’t ‘make’ her. She is who she is, however much we may long to mould her to us, to make our image hers. No: but we’d better be ready to be caught unawares, ambushed, captivated. Lest we’ve forgotten in our Advent tension, the truth is she’s a WOMAN – wonderful and mysterious, and between her reality and our deepest longings there’s a gap which only love, a holy grace, can fill.
We must be cautious for another reason too. Her beauty may be a terrible beauty, and it may just destroy us. For why has she come into our life NOW? Is it to annihilate, to purge us with fire, a fire which will melt the deadness in us which for too long we’ve taken to be indispensable to who we are? Has she come that we might BECOME. Oh yes, we’re right to fear this day of her coming. Whatever else, there’s going to be a change in us. Are we prepared for that, to be transformed? Are we prepared through her to find a oneness and wholeness in us which, without her, we’d never know? Yes, but what will be the price of that?
After all, it might just go wrong. She might not like us enough. She may judge us severely. “Oh dear God, his hair is grey. He must be well over 60, old enough to be my grandfather.” Are we ready to be rubbished? Oh dear, the moment of truth is a dreadful thing. She might just see right through us. “Our God comes, he does not keep silence; before him a devouring fire.” Dear blessed Advent.
Now it may be that you find this story about Advent and meeting a pretty girl all a bit fanciful. Does it help make Advent a living reality?
Sometimes I think that too much life has been removed from us. There’s so much we’re required to believe, the creeds, collects and catechisms, so that
despite ourselves, our true selves, we’re being shaped into Pharisees for whom the letter ever overrides the spirit. This land is full of it. That wasn’t the way of Jesus, was it, the Jesus who said “Come and see”, the Jesus who invited us to witness a living reality, the Jesus who wants us to experience him not just recite things about him? So yes, surely our faith must give expression, however inarticulately, must be true, however messily, to our experience if it’s to have meaning in our lives. If it doesn’t, what really is the point of it?
How much moonshine are we really expected to swallow? What about the so-called ‘second-coming’? Will there really be a day of judgment when the Christ will come in clouds of great glory to judge the world? We know the early Christians believed it. Yet even Paul had to back down – for time passed and the signs and portents didn’t appear and the great world’s life went rolling on. And today, in feasting and fasting, laughing and weeping, loving and hating, sinning and repenting, things are just as they were. And please don’t rationalise it with metaphors about a day with God being as a thousand years. That’s just a cop out. For me, there can be no second coming for Jesus never left us. It’s just that we need to be reminded what that means, that the light of the world may just manifest as a devouring fire. Then who will abide the day of his coming? Dear blessed Advent.
Go safely, then – until the next time.
Advent from the boundary: “The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall…we retain the child in us to the extent we honour the mystery” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).