Reveal among us the light of your presence, that we may behold your power and glory.
Hymn for Advent
Baffled in darkness, we are lost,
The winter night is long and cold
Taught by the prophets' joyful Word
Thaw out the nearly frozen heart
Anglican Theological Review, 81.4 Fall 1999, pp. 687-688.
Circle us, Lord
Circle us, Lord
Gentle Mary laid her child. Jongemannenkoor, Stads Jongenskoor Oldenzaal.
Advent has for a long time been one of the most important and significant times in the Church's year—a time of waiting, we sometimes say. But once we've said waiting, of course that's not a very attractive word. We're not a culture that's very used to waiting. 'Take waiting out of wanting'—that's a slogan that was very popular some decades ago—and it still governs a great deal of the way we behave. We'd quite like to have things when we decide we want them. And so waiting seems negative, waiting seems perhaps passive, unexciting, the boring bit before we get to the exciting bit. …
Well it's that kind of waiting that Advent is about. We remember in Advent the time of waiting before the birth of Jesus, and we remember that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us—as a time when people were indeed longing for something that would change everything, and yet at the same time not quite knowing what that something would be. During Advent, Christians go back to that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us. They read again the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament. They read about how people were longing for an end to slavery, longing to be back home in some sense, longing to be at home with God again, longing for reconciliation. And all of that is expressed in the most powerful metaphors, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah; metaphors about the desert blossoming, metaphors about the rain falling, metaphors about day dawning after there's been a long, long night.
So during this four weeks before Christmas, that's what Christians are reflecting on. When Jesus comes into the life of the world with something unplanned, overwhelming, something that makes a colossal difference, we long for it and yet we don't quite know what it's going to involve. This is a bit odd isn't it, you might say. Surely Jesus has come into the world and by now we ought to know what sort of difference he's made. But the truth is that we don't yet know the difference Jesus might make. We know some of the difference he's made to our lives as individuals, to the life of the Christian community, the Church, to the whole world. And yet there's more. We're still waiting to see what might happen if Jesus was allowed into our lives that bit more fully; that bit more radically.