ADVENT Reflection from St.Matthews, Westminster

On the Move: a four week reflection on
the Advent Procession
Advent Sunday

Almighty God give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; so that, at the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The season of Advent – the four weeks of preparation for Christmas – is a profoundly evocative time which draws on the closing in of the days as winter deepens, and invites us to consider the darkness that pervades our world and often our personal lives and yet finds a glimmer of divine hope that scatters the darkness from before our path. Although Advent has been almost entirely subsumed in the popular mind by the rush to Christmas, the church’s stubborn observance of the Advent season is a call to explore the depths of our human experience and to discover something even deeper which gives point and purpose to, and ultimately makes sense of, our being human – namely a sense of God’s love. That is rather a grand – maybe an overblown – way of describing the Church’s keeping of Advent but the point about the Church’s year, driven by the gospel narrative, is that we believe in a God who has entered our human condition, with all its darkness, and by that entering in transformed it – indeed continues to transform it – into something so grace-filled that it leads to perfection.

When Christmas comes with all the humanity of the manger birth, we are often inclined to stay with the sentimentality and the fantasy and the over consumption that passes for the good life in modern times. Advent plumbs depths which our celebration of Christmas all too easily side steps.

Part of the mystery of Advent (and its mysteriousness is part of its rich attraction) is tied up with what Advent actually signifies. Of course the word means ‘Coming’ and the coming of Christ, celebrated at Christmas, is anticipated in this season especially in the stories of John the Baptist and the annunciation to the Virgin Mary. But ‘Coming’ has further resonance in the Christian understanding in that it also refers to the second coming of Christ as judge, and the last things (Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell) – what in theological language is called eschatology.

That is what the Advent Collect (above) is referring to when Jesus is described as coming again ‘in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead’ on the last day. This is something to which nowadays we give scant attention, despite our unflinching affirmation in the Creed that ‘Christ will come again to judge both the living and the dead.’ Should Advent, therefore, be kept as a time of rejoicing and expectation or a time of penitential waiting and preparation? The question is reflected in our Advent liturgies – we revert for example to the liturgical colour of penitential purple and we omit the Gloria from the Mass, but Alleluias abound in our hymns. This is an age-old ambivalence, for the penitential observance of a much longer Advent season beginning on November 11 (Feast of St Martin) or even earlier was the practice of the church in France, Spain and Germany in the fifth century. But in Rome (rather later in the sixth century) the Advent season started later and comprised only four or five Sundays and was a festive season of preparation for the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, without penitential character.

When in the eighth century the Frankish Church accepted the Roman liturgy the non – penitential Advent of Rome clashed with the much longer penitential season of the Gallic observance. After a few centuries of vacillation there emerged a final structure of Advent observance that combined features of both traditions, which, with pruning of the season to four weeks, is the tradition we have inherited almost unchanged since the thirteenth century.

Saint Matthew’s Anglican Church, Westminster, an Anglo-Catholic citadel in the heart of London, England, is the source of this excellent reflection on the place of Advent – at the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Church.

Advent

In the usual pre-Christmas rush, even church-going people are apt to get caught up in all the preparation for the festive season; while the liturgy of the Church calls us to a season of reflection on the Second Coming of Christ and what that will mean for the need for repentance and readiness to enter into the Reign of Christ (celebrated last Sunday but also foretold in the Readings of the Advent season).

“Now, in the time of this mortal life” – is the opportunity to do a stocktake of our attitudes, prejuduces and conflicts that militate against the coming of God’s Kingdom among us. A short season of waiting upon God gives us a unique time of preparation for the Heavenly Banquet provided by Christ in his Incarnate life, death, resurrection and glorification. With such a time of reflection we can go forward in Faith, Hope and Love that is called for in the celebration of Christ’s First Coming into our world.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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