The people who walk in darkness will see a great light – a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow … . For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: ‘Wonderful’, ‘Counsellor’, ‘Mighty God’, ‘Everlasting Father’, ‘Prince of Peace’. [Isaiah 9:2, 6]
With special thanks to Thom Shuman, an American Presbyterian Minister whose recent Facebook post started me thinking about Advent in 2020.
Many of you know (much to your annoyance, I’m sure!) that I was an Advent purist (some may have used other words to describe me!). No Christmas carols until Christmas Eve, as many hymns as possible in the minor key, focusing on the waiting, the expectation and thoughts of the Second Coming, which has been Advent in the past.
But this year, I think we are all discovering what Advent may truly be about – a season of uncertainty, a season of worry and wondering, a season for fear trying to conquer faith, a season which calls us to reflect on the uncertainty, the worries and the fears which the Holy Family must have been dealing with on their journey to Bethlehem.
So, can we discover – or rediscover – what it was that John the Baptist was saying to people living with the fear of an oppressive regime? Can we look beyond the traditional images to see what the prophets were saying to people in exile, and to people coming home (or trying to)? Can we hear the prayers, the hopes, the worries of those facing persecution, injustices, doubts to whom the letter writers were sending the gospel? Can we find hope, grace, new life, justice in that old, old song Mary sang so long ago?
In these uncertain days, maybe we can rediscover the rich gifts which Advent has to offer us. For me, the story becomes more real as we struggle to decide about travelling in uncertain times. Do we become like that mythological innkeeper forced to say no to family who would like to visit us? Do we continue to journey in faith, and hope and grace?
I think to get through this Advent, as both preachers and believers, we need to put aside the minor key music, to sing the familiar and comforting carols over and over, to offer as much hope – in music, in word, in prayer, in silence – as we can.
God bless you all