A Time of Waiting
This season of Advent offers the chance in whatever small ways are possible, to be still, learn, reflect, take stock
For every person and every family the coronavirus pandemic has brought different challenges, heartaches, sorrows, frustrations and worries. So many people have lost loved ones or suffered long term health problems. Millions will soon be unemployed and the gross inequalities in our society have been more exposed than ever.
How long must this go on for? When will it all end? We wait anxiously for the vaccines to be rolled out. We will wait for some signs of economic recovery in the years ahead. We wait for better times. We look back to life as it was back in February, when we shopped, went out with friends, enjoyed a holiday, felt secure in our job. ‘By the waters of Babylon, we wept when we remembered Zion’, cried the people of Israel in exile.
My wife and I have been more fortunate than many in that we have not so far contracted the virus and during this year have enjoyed the privilege of having a garden, in which to spend time. But one consequence of repeated lockdowns and being in Tier 3 here in Sheffield, has been forgetting which day of the week it is, since every day is much like the other, confined as we are to our home. Routines have had to be rethought.
I personally value the rhythm and routines of everyday life. I think it is important to mark out the flow of the seasons, to have in the calendar those events , anniversaries and celebrations which give meaning to our lives. Advent is such a season. Here in western Europe it is largely the legacy of Christianity that we have the various feast days, holy-days and rituals, some of which of course go back to pagan and pre-Christian times.
For Christians Advent is not only a time of waiting but offers the opportunity over four weeks for some self-reflection, some learning and in worship to be imaginative and creative. Of course some might only think of an Advent Calendar, replete with daily chocolates. Yet I suspect many of us, churchgoers or not, find it wearisome to have Christmas beginning in the shops in September, to find the consumer side of Christmas comes at us for weeks and weeks prior to December 25th. I know the pop song went, ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’ and we pray indeed for a world where peace and joy could fill all our days. Yet Christmas is only one part of our lives and surely we do need all those other routines – ‘For everything there is a season’
This season of Advent offers the chance in whatever small ways are possible, to be still, learn, reflect, take stock, if only through reading a book, or a daily poem, lighting a candle, sharing some silence around the meal table. When I was a parish priest Advent offered the opportunity with the congregation to think thematically around the scriptures, for example to get to grips with the birth narratives in the gospels and to discover how radical are these theological stories. In the Christian tradition we are invited in Advent to ponder those difficult themes of judgement, of life and death, the End things. If Christ were to come again to this pandemic world, what would he make of this earth? What would he think of our spoliation of the environment? How would the teachings of Matthew 25 stack up as Christ judges how we have, or have not, welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, bound up the wounded, visited the prisoner? Food for thought and action as we prepare to welcome once more the Prince of Peace into our hearts.
The coronavirus has indeed shaken the earth. It has shone its own light into the workings of government, the successes and failures of international cooperation. We have discovered afresh our reliance on those who care for others in hospitals, care homes and public services, many of whom are the least well paid in our society.
We say that we need to change our priorities and think again about who and what is important to us. Advent is such a time to begin that reflection.
Revd Adrian Alker
Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain.