Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are starting a new liturgical year in the church. Our readings in the three year lectionary cycle change from year C to year A, our gospel readings to Matthew. Each year in the church’s calendar we hear the ancient prophesies and we hear about their fulfilment as we relive events in Christ’s life; we hear too about the birth of the church and the lives and hopes of early Christians. There are no surprises. We know most of the history well. In particular we know of the birth of Jesus, his teaching and miracles, his betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Yet each year we start anew, and in our weekly celebrations we let the great events of salvation history come to us afresh. We wait, we rejoice, we share the Jewish people’s astonishment at Christ’s miracles, we learn from his teaching, we fast, we weep, we rejoice once more, as we hear the Good News.
The season of Advent begins the church’s year. We compress into three or four weeks the centuries of waiting of the ancient Israelites and their prophets as they awaited the coming of the Messiah, and we join with them in their waiting. Of course, we know full well what we are waiting for, what is going to happen and when; we are going to celebrate the birth of the Son of God at Christmas. But still we wait in anticipation until we hear the song of the angels to the shepherds. And yet there is also a part of Advent which is unknown, at least in its timing, a wait which extends beyond the church’s Advent season yet is at the heart of that season. For during Advent, we not only prepare to welcome the Christ child at Christmas but we also prepare to welcome Christ at his Second Coming. We know he will return; that is his promise. But we don’t know when, so like the ancient Israelites who didn’t know when the Messiah would come, we wait in ignorance of when Christ will return.
This year the Advent season is four full weeks of waiting before we celebrate the birth of Christ. Mary of course waited nine months. But has it ever struck you how following the annunciation and her visit to her cousin Elizabeth we hear no more about Mary until the visit to Bethlehem for the census? She waits in the background, unobserved, unnoticed, living as the wife of a carpenter in Nazareth. In her book The Reed of God the Roman Catholic mystic Caryll Houselander meditated on the humanity of Mary. There she wrote of Mary’s Advent “By his own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: he was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she chose to take him; he could not speak; her breathing was his breath; his heartbeat in the beating of her heart.” And further, “Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood. From her humanity she gave Him His humanity. Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she set His feet on the path of Jerusalem. Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared His hands for the nails. Every beat of her heart gave Him His heart to love with, His heart to be broken by love. All her experience of the world about her was gathered to Christ growing in her.”
We wait with Mary and Joseph. May we all share the joy she must have felt when the day came for Christ’s birth. May all of us, with family and friends, have a very happy and blessed Christmas.