As we start the season of Advent, CAFOD volunteer Sue Cooper from Wokingham writes about how this is a time to reflect in the depth of our darkness on the Light who is coming.
How we need this season of hope this year, more than ever, after all the deprivations and uncertainties of the nightmare that is COVID. Hopefully this year our Christmas plans will not have to be abandoned and we won’t have to exchange presents in a cold garden closer to Easter!
As the year draws to a close, it is a time of bleakness. The days grow shorter still, the earth is shrouded with damp and the bare branches of trees and bushes offer no comfort. But amongst this dormancy in nature, our lives can be a major rush. We busy ourselves with present-buying, card-writing, decorating our houses and preparing food and travel arrangements for the coming festivities. As if, in all this activity, we are trying to escape from the darkness and gloom that surrounds us.
A time to pause and reflect
And yet, Advent is a time to pause and reflect in the depth of our darkness on the meaning of the incarnation and the Light who is coming for us and for our world.
The Sunday Mass readings throughout Advent warn us to ready ourselves and our anticipation of future events is filled with light and expectation. We have not been abandoned in the darkness. There is One who is coming to us who brings peace and cares for those on the margins.
In preparation to welcome the Promised One, we must respond to the call of John the Baptist to “repent” and change our ways. As the weeks unfold the anticipation and excitement grow: the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, is coming!
A time of hope
This Advent I am looking forward to linking up with people around the world in a virtual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is one of the paradoxes of the COVID-world that last Advent, amidst all the travel and social contact restrictions, thanks to technology, I met and prayed with people in San Francisco, Switzerland, France and Egypt as we journeyed around sites connected with the birth of Jesus in the Holy Land.
Our escorts were unemployed tour guides from the different religious traditions: Catholic, Orthodox, Judaism and Islam, which call the land of Jesus home. It was a marvellously enriching cultural experience to be able to share with such a diverse range of people. So once again I will travel to Nazareth, to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home in Ein Karem and finally to Bethlehem.
It is a good time for spiritual reflection, sitting in front of my Advent candle to take stock of my relationship with Jesus. Do I really believe in a God who is with me? What changes do I need to make for this to shine through?
With the promise of Advent, it is not a time to reproach myself, but rather to look forward to what can be achieved with God’s love born anew. In the darkness of this time, what can I do to enkindle lights of hope for me and my neighbour both near and far? How can I too be a herald of peace and justice?
A time to prepare
This Advent is particularly special for our family as we await the birth of our first grandchild, due during the season of Christmastide. Just as Mary prepared to welcome the one who was to bring a new beginning for our world, our daughter, Clare, looks forward to the arrival of her baby with excitement but also wonders what this will mean for her life.
Clare lives some distance away so there is little we can do to help with the practical preparations for the baby’s arrival. But in another sense, there is much that we can do. By making Christ’s love incarnate in acts of love and kindness, working for justice and peace and caring for the earth, we can strive to make this world a better place for her and for all children.
A time to reach out
There is of course more that can be done both in my local community and more widely to reach out and make a change in our world this Advent. At our local food bank, the local churches do what we can to offer a helping hand to those struggling with homelessness, debt and sickness.
World Gifts also give us the chance to recognise and connect with Christ incarnate in our sisters and brothers throughout the world. I have got my eye on the “Healthy mum and baby gift”.
This Advent it is time to respond to John the Baptist’s call to repent. To reorder our lives so that we are ready to welcome the Christ child in our hearts. And to welcome all God’s children into a world of justice and peace. A world freed from the scars of our exploitation of God’s good gifts to us in Creation.