The first of four Sundays before Christmas Day marks the start of the ecclesiastical or liturgical year. We call the season Advent and the most common take on it is that it is a time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
My wife and I joined 12 others on a retreat at New Norcia this weekend to mark the beginning of the season, and the retreat director commented at our first discussion that while we give ourselves four weeks to get ready for Christmas, the retail sector of our community has been calling us all into readiness since the day after Father's Day - the first Sunday in September.
"A time of expectant waiting" is a common definition, and some years the selected Scripture readings have a strong emphasis on the Christian anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus some time in the future.
Our retreat director drew our attention to the many speeches that make up the narrative of the period leading up to and shortly after the birth of Jesus. This made an interesting approach - a new perspective because we were focussed on what people said rather than the narrative of events.
Thus we considered the texts of the Benedictus - Zechariah's response to the birth of John the Baptist - the Magnificant - Mary's response to the realisation that both she and Elizabeth, her cousin, were pregnant by divine intervention - and the Nunc Dimittus - the response of the old temple prophet Simeon to seeing the baby Jesus when he was brought to the Temple for Circumcision. In these texts we found a wonderful linkage between the old and the new, the Hebrew Salvation History and the newly emerging Christian Salvation History. It was a feast of ideas enriched by great works of art , ancient and modern, that depict the events.
One gesture of anticipation and getting ready that is part of our household tradition is the raising our of our Christmas Tree and generally bestowing on the whole house the feel of Christmas. All sorts of Christmas decore has been collected over the years and these are arranged around the house, scattered in unexpected nooks, ready to surprise a guest who thought they had taken in all the Christmas stuff we had.
Right at the end of our retreat, Dom Michael, who was not leading the retreat, but who was present for all our sessions, was reminded of a statement from an 13th Century German philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart who said that unless Christ was born in us today, what happened in Bethlehem was irrelevant. I think this is the little gem that will stay with me this advent, and to think it was almost a throw-away line right at the end of the retreat.
Hope you have a good one.
ROBERT INCHAUSTI: SUBVERSIVE ORTHODOXY
3 years ago