Reflections on Advent: He will come…!

Dear Parents, Guardians, fellow members of staff,

If you were to visit Egypt and to come across the ancient Coptic Church, you would discover that Advent marks the beginning of a long season of fasting which only comes to a conclusion with Easter, not Christmas. Even more strangely, if you visited the Outer Hebrides, you would realise that the austere Christianity there follows the same pattern. [Indeed, if you were listening to the strange Psalm singing on Lewis, you would probably find yourself making links to Islamic chant.] Christmas in these cultures is still within the season of repentance and fasting. Every aspect of life in this picture of Christianity leads not towards Christmas, but towards Easter.

Not that I am proposing that you abandon Christmas celebrations! Far from it! After all, celebrating at that time of year has anthropological roots in ancient religious and cultural practices that existed before the arrival of Christendom. There are those who feel estranged from Christianity and indeed alienated by it, who nevertheless celebrate Christmas’ and perhaps give it other names. And why not? After all, there are so many crises around us that coming together in celebration will be a vital means of communal and family uplift. The sadness of this is that some of the aspects of what Advent is can go unnoticed… passed over, even.


Rowan Williams’ Advent Poem

Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of the most important and finest religious speakers and writers in current Christendom. He is a prophet for our times – in my view, unfolding how Christianity interchanges, mingles, enlightens and is enlightened by the clashing of cultures in which we now live. Here are two stanzas from his Advent Poem: Advent Calendar…’:

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding. 

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Its worth reading the whole poem, which you can find easily in Google.


A different ‘Calendar’

I suspect that most of you will have bought a candle with the dates of the Month up until 25th December, lighting it each day and burning it low in the middle of the table as you enjoy your Christmas Day meal.

Perhaps you have an Advent calendar that has doors for each day of the month, some with enticing chocolates inside them.

However, as the poem points out, theres another Calendar’ happening right in front of you in each moment, that can so easily go unnoticed. The poem invites you to notice, even in the moments of sadness or anxiety: crying in the nightbreakingthe earth writhes’ – that a Child will come.


A Movie Trailer

There are, in fact, little adventscomings’ intimately close to you. One I enjoy, which I shared in the Confirmation Liturgy on Advent Sunday, is the movie trailer, which has within it little clips that have been drawn from the footage of the movie itself. The trailer has intimations of what you can expect in the complete movie.

A man who runs a fun-fare in the North East, has donated his generator to a small village which had no power as a result of Storm Arwen. Thats a little trailer’ of the glory of giving and generosity. To see the Director General of the World Health organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, beseeching the larger nations to be urgent in their generosity and collaboration was, for me at any rate, a trailer’ of the possible. Maybe we will wake up as the earth writhes to toss him free./ He will come like a child.

So may the Coming of Christ, in the small moments as well as the huge one, bring you a ‘trailer’ of what is important to look towards.


In the Love of God,

Bishop Martin
School Chaplain

2 December 2021
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