Advent takes us beyond ourselves. There are times when we glimpse this, especially when we are young. I am old now but I remember moments which are indescribable when I was filled with wonder and anticipation.
We would visit my grandmother and there was something about the pantry – and the lemonade – which went way beyond the grandest restaurants and the finest wines. We lived far from the sea but when we did go there the excitement went far beyond geography; the smell of the sea, its constant motion and its infinity – all spoke to me of mystery beyond my puny ability to understand.
In Advent we are called to stop and dwell on the mystery which we are. We can be tyrannised by the demands of each day and collapse exhausted on our couch at night. Yet if we can find moments to pause and soak in the poetry of Isaiah we will open a door that takes us beyond reason, beyond technology. We are not meant to make our home here for ever. ‘Console my people, console them’, he cries this Sunday and it is not going to be the consolation of money or status or some other good thing of life though such things are good and have their place. It is the consolation of trust solidly placed in one who is beyond us and always faithful.
Last week I wrote of Fr Augustus Law dying in a lonely place without medical care and without those he was with understanding why he came. His mission was a total failure in terms of result based planning but his last written words in his diary before he died were, ‘I don’t think that I could ever despair, even if I tried’. This week I listened to an interview with Jewish South African artist William Kentridge and at one point he said, ‘Follow through what happens at the edges’. An enigmatic piece of advice perhaps but when you think of Jesus noticing the widow putting her few pence in the temple collection plate you begin to see what he means. She gave all she had for something greater than herself. Jesus noticed her. Probably he was the only one who did. Our moments of attention to what is beyond us are pregnant with blessings.
‘Sometimes it was as if a chink had opened
Upon a scene unforeseen and enterable –
Seamus Heaney, The Real Names
The kingdom, the gospels insist, is ‘close at hand’. It is round the corner. But we have to notice it, to welcome it. We are to be alert to every person we meet or see. Advent is a kind of institutional ‘Rinse your eyes, stay awake’ time!
6 Dec 2020 Advent Sunday 2 B Is 40:1…11 2 Pet 3: 8-14 Mk 1:1-8