Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Silent Joy of Advent

Today is Advent, the day in the Christian calendar which is the first of four Sundays which look forward to the coming of the Christ child. But need we view this day as exclusively Christian? The word advent simply means an arrival – any arrival which we might view as significant. In this broader sense the word advent also contains the idea of anticipation, and that anticipation in turn contains a sense of joy and wonder. We wait in joyful anticipation, which could mean the coming birth of any child. 

Those of us who have children, who have borne children, will know that once that expected child has arrived into the world then it is impossible to imagine our world without the presence of that little soul in it. The universal period of advent is not four weeks, but nine months – although the sense of anticipation quickens, becomes more keenly felt, as the expected time of the birth approaches. During this time of advent we make preparations. We decorate the new nursery, we acquire the necessary furnishings – the cot, baby bath, and suitable decorations in the form of mobiles, cuddly toys and other items. We, as it were, prepare the nest. And this becomes another aspect of our advent: it is also a time of preparation. We lay the way for the expected new arrival.

But while advent implies all of these things, and whether we have children or not, it still is a term, a state of being, which can apply to us all. In our hectic world we constantly face a barrage of distractions, from the chattering voices of social media with which we constantly keep in touch via our ubiquitous smartphones, from the pressures of commercialism which urge us to buy, buy, buy, at the very time of the year when we should be retreating into ourselves in silent contemplation and reflection. For this also is an aspect of advent: it is – or should be – a time of quiet reflection.

If only we can manage to be silent in ourselves, to still all those chattering voices which distract us, then we allow the true spirit of advent to reveal itself. That sense of expectant wonder is always present. Advent is in every moment. And that moment is universal. “Peace, be still.” were the words we are told Jesus spoke to calm the storm on that far Sea of Galilee. If we allow those words to echo in our hearts, whether we are Christian or not, and whether we celebrate the Christian day of Advent or not, we allow the true spirit of a universal advent to emerge, and we find ourselves filled with a renewing spirit of anticipation, wonder and silent joy.

Detail of Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour

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